Orphan Work

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Synonyms: hostage works, the orphan works problem
See also: Orphaning Fanworks, copyright, fair use, public domain
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Wikipedia defines an orphan work as
a copyrighted work for which the copyright owner cannot be contacted. In some cases, only the name of its creator or copyright owner is known, and no other information can be established. A work can become an orphan because the copyright owner is unaware of their ownership, or the copyright owner has died, or the copyright owner is a company that has gone out of business, and it is not possible to establish to whom ownership of the copyright has passed. In other cases, the author and origin of a work simply cannot be determined, even after great diligence has been conducted.[1]

The impact of orphan works is far ranging: works cannot be used, languish, and eventually fall in obscurity. Even worse, the number of orphan works currently in the world today hinders digital preservation. In the United States, there have been several attempts to come up with legislation to create a process by which orphan works can be identified and used. These include the Orphan Works Act of 2008, which, after creating much uproar in both the professional and fan communities,[2] died a quiet death.[3] Fandom's reactions to the Act were documented at Fan History wiki (archived link). The Library of Congress began soliciting comments regarding orphan works again in 2012.[4]

Among Archive of Our Own users, the term has taken on a quite different meaning due to an archive feature that lets fans permanently anonymize a fanwork they created.[5]


  1. ^ Orhpan Works on Wikipedia.
  2. ^ For example see Six Misconceptions About Orphaned Works's 300+ comments. (archived)
  3. ^ Orphan Works’ Copyright Law Dies Quiet Death. Wired dated Sept 30, 2008.
  4. ^ copyright.gov: "The Copyright Office is reviewing the problem of orphan works under U.S. copyright law in continuation of its previous work on the subject and to advise Congress on possible next steps for the United States.".
  5. ^ August 29, 2013 thread on fail_fandomanon