Orphan Works
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Orphan Works

An Overview of the Orphan Works Directive and the Orphan Works Database

Directive 2012/28/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 on certain permitted uses of orphan works outlines common rules on the digitisation and online display of orphan works. According to Article 3(6) of the Directive 2012/28/EU, the European Union Intellectual Property Office, commonly referred to as EUIPO, is responsible for launching and managing a publicly accessible online database on orphan works. In fact, the Orphan Works Database was launched by the EUIPO in October 2014.

More information on the Orphan Works Directive and on the relevant national legislation can be accessed through the following links.

European Commission’s Website:


Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government’s Website:


What are Orphan Works?

Orphan works are works like books, newspaper and magazine articles and films that are still protected by copyright but whose authors or rightholders are not known or cannot be located or contacted to obtain copyright permission. Orphan works are part of the collections held by European libraries that might remain untouched without common rules to make their digitisation and online display legally possible.

The Orphan Works Database

The Orphan Works Database is an EU-wide database which provides access to orphan works records. This database is accessible for beneficiary organisation, rightholders and the general public.

This database comprises details pertaining to orphan works which are part of collections of publicly accessible libraries, education establishments and museums, archives, film or audio heritage institutions, and public-service broadcasting organisations established within Member States. Other information obtained from the database entails entities which want to make use of orphan works, the projects in which the works will be used, etc.

The database serves as a means of assisting beneficiary organisations which intend to make use of orphan works in digitisation projects, by permitting them to access relevant information about such works. Beneficiary organisations can conduct diligent searches and identify works as being orphan through the database. These entities can forward information about orphan works to EUIPO via the competent national authority of each respective Member State. In the case of Malta, the Industrial Property Registrations Directorate within the Commerce Department is the competent national authority. In turn, once EUIPO receives the forwarded information, details about the orphan works would become available in the database.

Works which are accessible in the database have to be first published or broadcasted in EU Member States, and examples of such works entail:

  • Printed Material such as books, journals, newspapers, magazines or other writings;
  • Cinematographic or audiovisual works and phonograms;
  • Unpublished works under certain conditions;
  • Embedded or incorporated works in other works or phonograms such as pictures and photographs;
  • Partial orphan works, i.e. those works whose rightholders have been identified or located and have granted permission to use their works in connection with the rights they hold.

Rightholders and potential rightholders can effortlessly access information about orphan works and can also put an end to the orphan work status by contacting the beneficiary organisations which are using their works and in turn claim their rights in such works. Moreover, the database has a critical role in preventing and abolishing possible copyright infringements.

The Orphan Works Database can be accessed through the following link:


For assistance or further information on the use of the Orphan Works Database, kindly contact the EUIPO on observatory.orphanworks@euipo.europa.eu.