copyrightThe Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals and other libraries and library associations in the UK are in the midst of a campaign to move unpublished individual works to the current copyright regime of the author’s life plus 70 years, instead of the British “Orphan Works” category, which restricts their exhibition until 2039. And they have now moved their campaign from petitions to displays with empty spaces to make the point.

CILIP explains:

Up to 50% of archival records in the UK are ‘orphan works’. This is when the rights holder cannot be identified and/or traced. The Imperial War Museum has an estimated 1.75 million documents that are orphan works, approximately 20-25% of the 7.9 million documents in their collections. The campaign is calling on the UK Government to reduce the term of copyright protection in certain unpublished works from the end of the year 2039 to the author’s lifetime plus 70 years, as per provisions laid out in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act (ERRA) 2013.

The UK government is in the middle of a consultation process on the issue right now, and the current  Intellectual Property Minister, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, has responded positively to its aims. However, CILIP and others apparently remain concerned that action will not be taken quickly enough and will be postponed until the next election, due in 2015. Naomi Korn, Chair of the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance, said: “We are concerned that the six month timescale outlined in the Minister’s letter does reduce the chance of these provisions seeing the light of day before the next General Election. We need swift action to resolve this obstacle to accessing our history.”

The anniversary of World War 1, when many letters from soldiers fell under the orphan works category, threw the problem into especially sharp focus, and as reported in The Guardian, museums from the Imperial War Museum to the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh used the opportunity to put displays into empty cases, to remind visitors how much access to the past was being lost.The campaign has also launched a petition inviting the public to support the initiative.



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