Who owns the copyright to....? - Knowledge Base

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Who owns the copyright to....?

How to trace the copyright owner

Sometimes tracing a copyright owner can take some investigation, but the best place to start is with whoever is publishing the work now. If the work is no longer being published, then you should start by contacting the last known publisher.

Contact the publisher

Sometimes publishers can be a little cagey, and may tell you that they do not have that information, but they are always the best place to start.

With the exception of public domain items, (i.e. where the author died 70+ years ago), to legally use a work, the publisher must have the permission of the copyright owner. It therefore stands to reason that they will know who to contact, or at least know of an agent who deals with the work on the copyright owner’s behalf.

Typically they will not divulge their clients contact details, but will either make a judgement themselves, put you in touch with the appropriate licensing agency, or take your details and pass them onto the copyright owner.

Licensing agencies

With widely published, commercial music, film or literary works, it is common for the copyright owner to use a licensing agency to handle such issues, but again, the publisher will know who you need to contact.

What about work on the Internet?

For content that appears on the Internet, i.e. content and images appearing on a web site, then this should simply be a matter of contacting the webmaster of the site, (most web sites will provide an email address for queries). The person responsible for the site should be able to respond to your request, or forward your request to the relevant person.

Do I need permission before I use the work?

Before you can legally use someone else‘s work, (other than as described as ‘fair dealing’), you will need the permission of the copyright owner.

Can the UK Copyright Service trace the owner for me?

No, this is not a service we provide. We cannot trace copyright owners for you, nor can we negotiate licensing agreements on your behalf.

For published works, the agreement between the copyright owner and the publisher will often impose restrictions on where and how the work can be reproduced, there may be a collecting or licensing agency that deals with such matters on the copyright owners behalf. It is therefore important that you proceed through the proper channels.

Other considerations

If you are seeking to use the work, depending on the type of work and how you wish to use it, you should be prepared for the owner of the work to refuse to give you permission, or charge royalties for your use.

Further information

The following pages and fact sheets provide further information which you may find useful.

P-09: Understanding fair use

P-13: Obtaining permission to use copyright work