Finding copyright owners
Finding copyright owners for published material
Published material is works where reproductions have been supplied to the public, such as books, newspapers, magazines, most maps, commercially-made music CDs, and television broadcasts.
To work out who owns copyright in a work, look for a copyright statement on the work. It will often look like this: © John Smith 2009. On books, the copyright statement often appears on the back of the title page. If you cannot find the name of the copyright owner that way, check the record in the Library’s catalogue.
For books and other published works, we suggest you first try contacting the publisher. Publishers are easier to find than authors, and if the author is the copyright owner, the publisher may be able to give you the author’s contact details or forward your request to them.
You may be able to find the publisher through the Australian Publishers Association. Another useful resource is Margaret Gee’s Australian Media Guide. There are a number of online directories for overseas publishers such as the Publishers Directory maintained by Publishers Global. If you wish to contact an author directly, the Australian Society of Authors may be able to help.
Finding copyright owners for unpublished material
Unpublished material can include architectural plans; art works; diaries, letters and other manuscripts; hand-drawn maps and music scores; oral history sound recordings; and photographs. If you wish to find the copyright owner of an unpublished work in the Library’s collection, please contact the Library. We may be able to provide you with the copyright owner’s contact details. There are separate procedures and resources for contacting custodians of Indigenous cultural content.
Agencies that represent copyright owners
Instead of contacting the copyright owner directly, you may wish to contact an agency that represents copyright owners. These agencies can authorise you, on behalf of the copyright owner, to copy, perform or broadcast a work, usually for a fee. Some examples are the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) for books, essays and articles; Viscopy for visual works; and APRA/AMCOS for music.
What if the copyright owner is hard to trace?
It may be difficult to find a copyright owner, especially when copyright has passed to heirs or copyright was owned by a company that has gone out of business. To find heirs named in an Australian creator’s will, contact the Probate Division of the Supreme Court in the State where the creator died. To find information about what happened to the assets (copyright is an asset) of an Australian company which has gone out of business, try the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
If you are unable to identify or locate a copyright owner, you will need to decide whether you are willing to proceed with your proposed use, and hence risk infringing copyright. For instance, some people decide to proceed, but with a statement inviting copyright owners to come forward if they believe their material has been reproduced. If you decide to follow this course, it may be wise to keep detailed records of your attempts to clear rights, and to speak with a lawyer about your exposure to risk. Under the current law, the fact that you have made good faith attempts to identify and contact the copyright owner does not protect you from legal action under the Copyright Act.
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