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Copyright

If an item is still in copyright, a maximum of 5% or one chapter, whichever is greater, can be copied without seeking formal permission of the copyright owner.

In some instances we may therefore require written permission from the copyright holder before we can process an order.

For EU publications, copyright exists for 70 years after the end of the calendar year in which the author died; for non-EU publications, this period is usually 50 years after the end of the year in which the author died.

If the date of the author's death is unknown, any item published within the last 120 years is assumed to be in copyright.

If you need further advice regarding copyright please see our copyright guidance resource

Tracing Copyright Holders

Copyright ownership

Once you have established that an item is in copyright, it is your responsibility to identify and trace the current copyright holder. For guidance, in the most commonly-encountered types of material, the first copyright holder is usually as follows:

  • Literary, dramatic and musical works: the author or authors of the work.
  • Artistic works (apart from photographs): the artist or artists.
  • Photographs: for photographs dating from before 1 July 1912 and after 1 August 1989, the person who created the photograph (usually the photographer); for photographs dating from 1 July 1912-31 July 1989, the person who owned the material (e.g. the negative) on which the photograph was taken.
  • Sound recordings: for recordings made before 1 August 1989, the person or organisation who owned the original plate or record when the recording was made; for later recordings, the person who made arrangements for the recording (usually the producer).
  • Films and other moving images: for pre-1957 films, there is no copyright in the film as a whole, but the authors of different elements are counted as copyright holders (e.g. the script writer or the photographer for individual frames), although often the overall copyright holder is the production company. For films dating from 1957-1994, copyright is usually held by the producer; and for post-1994 films, copyright ownership is shared between the principal director and the producer.
  • For typographical arrangement in new editions of earlier works: the publisher.

If a work was produced by an employee in the course of their employment, copyright is held by the employer. For some categories of artistic work (including photographs) which were commissioned before 1 August 1989, copyright is owned by the person who commissioned the work, although the artist may still retain moral rights over it.

The current copyright holder is typically the heir/s or direct descendant/s of the first copyright holder, or – in the case of an organisation – the successor body. However, this is not always the case as copyright can be bequeathed or assigned elsewhere.

Tracing current copyright holders

Tracing copyright holders can be complex, but the following list records some useful sources of information and possible routes for tracking down copyright holders in the UK. Many of these are taken from the invaluable copyright pages of the first resource (WATCH), and from The National Archives:

  • Search the WATCH database: this provides copyright contacts for writers, artists, and prominent people in other creative fields.
  • Search Firms Out of Business: a companion resource to WATCH which records information about printing and publishing firms, magazines, literary agencies and similar organisations which are no longer in existence.
  • Contact authors' or artists' societies, e.g. the Society of Authors or the Writers' Guild of Great Britain.
  • Check acknowledgements, notes and references in publications about the person you are interested in.
  • Contact publishers, biographers, academic researchers or literary agencies associated with the author you are interested in.
  • Contact libraries or other institutions which hold the principal archives of the individual or organisation you are interested in. 
  • Check genealogical and legal sources, e.g. wills of people who have died in England or Wales are publicly available at the Probate Office in London.
  • Undertake general web searches, including sites like 192.com.
  • Try sending a letter to the author's or artist's last known address.
  • Check the Library of Congress copyright page, which includes links to sources of copyright information.
  • Check biographical databases like Who Was Who and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Check any relevant licensing agencies: these are organisations which act on behalf of rights owners, issuing licenses and collecting fees on their behalf. Some of the major agencies include:
  • As a last resort, publish a notice in appropriate newspapers, journals or newsletters, e.g. the London Gazette, the Times or the Times Literary Supplement



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