How do I find copyright owners?

Finding copyright owners for books & other printed material

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 2014. 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. Refer to our example catalogue records with the potential copyright owners highlighted in each record.

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. See our Glossary & useful resources page for more information.

Finding copyright owners for rare and unique material

We may be able to assist you to find the copyright owners for rare or unique works in our collections.

For material from our Pictures Collection, please contact pics@slv.vic.gov.au.

For material from our Australian Manuscripts Collection, please contact manuscripts@slv.vic.gov.au.

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:

For a list of Australian agencies, see 'Collecting societies & other ways to find copyright owners' on the Glossary & useful resources page.

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 copying or re-use, and hence risk infringing copyright. For instance, some people decide to proceed with publication, but include a statement inviting copyright owners to come forward. 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.

Libraries use the term ‘orphan work’ to describe material where the copyright owner can either not be identified or located and permission to copy the work or publish it online cannot be obtained. An orphan work’s appearance on the Library’s website is not a guarantee that you can use it for any other purpose. The Library may have put the digital copy online using one of the exceptions in the Copyright Act that apply to libraries. These exceptions are not transferable to the public.

If you as a copyright owner find material on the Library’s website for which you have not given permission, the Library’s takedown position statement explains the steps that can be taken to contact the Library.