Millions of artworks and historical documents are today available to the public after changes in UK copyright law.
The works have hitherto been hidden from the public because their copyright holders were not identified, but with changes in the law, they can now be reproduced on the web, in books, and on television. It is estimated that up to 50% of archives in the UK are ‘orphaned’ documents or works. If the copyright holder comes forward after the work has been let into the public domain, they will be entitled to compensation. An example of works affected are the 12 paintings by Alfred Wallis owned by The Tate, who died with no remaining family; the museum can now digitise and reproduce these pieces.
This comes at the same time as the European Union introduces its Orphan Works Directive, which allows institutions to upload images of orphaned works onto the web and display them on their websites.