The Challenge of the Unlocatable Copyright Owner – Checklists!

As this blog has documented on numerous occasions (first; second; third), Canada’s Copyright Act contains an “unlocatable owner” licensing mechanism (sometimes referred to as the “orphan works” mechanism), which enables prospective users of copyrighted works to apply to the Copyright Board for a license to make use of a work where the user has been unable to find the owner of the work in question. As set out in Section 77 of the Copyright Act (Canada), if the Copyright Board “is satisfied that the applicant has made reasonable efforts to locate the owner of the copyright and that the owner cannot be located”, the Board can issue a license.

We’ve previously discussed in detail (see here) some of the limitations of the unlocatable owner mechanism, but if someone did want to make use of it, one issue which historically has remained unclear is what constitutes the “reasonable efforts” required by the Act as a condition to issuance of a license. (To make things more confusing, the Board’s own brochure which provides guidance on how to make unlocatable owner applications states that the Board must conclude that an applicant has “done everything you could to find the copyright owner”, which seems like a much higher bar to clear than “reasonable efforts”.)

While we still don’t have much more clarity on the issue from the Canadian Copyright Board, the United Kingdom’s Intellectual Property Office (which operates a similar unlocatable owner mechanism) has published three different brochures and checklists which sets out that office’s views on what constitutes a “diligent search” for unlocatable copyright owners. There are brochures and checklists for each of three “groups” of copyrighted works:

The checklists, in particular, offer very detailed guidance about potential sources of information regarding copyright owners – as such, though these guides are published for a UK audience, they offer some good inspiration for anyone undertaking clearance activities for any kind of project, including film and TV projects which incorporate pre-existing works.

Bob Tarantino

About Bob Tarantino

Bob Tarantino is Counsel at Dentons Canada LLP and focuses his practice on the interface between the entertainment industries and intellectual property law, with an emphasis on film and television production, financing, licensing, distribution, and IP acquisition and protection. His clients range from artists and independent producers to Canadian distributors and foreign studios and financiers at every stage of the creative process, from development to delivery and exploitation.

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