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Scenario:

A collection of works contributed by independent writers to a collective work/series is published on three different websites. The individual works are all orphan works (the writers are unknown/anonym to a degree of no ability to contact or identify), and the original publications of the works may be one of the websites or originate from an unknown and unidentifiable or no longer existent source.

Website A is the oldest known publication of the works and describes the copyright and licenses as this: "The collective work/series/setting is to be viewed as "public property" but not as "public domain", and that the copyright is to the original unknown contributors."

Website B and Website C have instead published the works under "Creative Commons By Reference ShareAlike 3.0" (CC-BY-SA 3.0), and do not mention anything about the original writers or any other copyright.

It's not known if any of the websites have the rights themselves to publish the works as they have done. The websites do not inform about it, and the original publishings sites, dates and authors are unknown and can't be verified.

A company wants to make a derivative work in another medium (like video series) based on the collective work/series and will be using the information in the individual works. However, the company is unsure of how to legally use the works.

Questions:

  1. What is the current license and copyright status of the works?
  2. Will the company need to acquire a license?
  3. From whom would the company be able to obtain a global use license for online digital publishing in this scenario?
  4. When would the works be under public domain, given the original publish dates and the authors are unknown?

Disclaimer: The questions are not meant to acquire legal advice, and I'm aware that the copyright laws vary from nation to nation, and it would be appreciated the answers where to be defined in either US or EU law or preferably answered based on EU law.

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  1. What is the current license and copyright status of the works?

Unknown

  1. Will the company need to acquire a license?

Yes

  1. From whom would the company be able to obtain a global use license for online digital publishing in this scenario?

From the current copyright holder or a person with a permissive licence (or chain of permissive licences) verified back to the copyright holder.

If you do not know or can not find the copyright holder then you either don't make a copy or copy at your own risk.

  1. When would the works be under public domain, given the original publish dates and the authors are unknown?

A list of copyright terms by country is available here.

EU countries do not have common copyright terms so there is no such thing as a common 'EU' duration.

A work is protected in each country for the time that their law provides unless they use the rule of the shorter term in which case the term is the lesser of their term and the term in the country of first publication. Determining country of first publication for a work first published online is problematical and subject to different legal decisions even within the same jurisdiction.

Anonymous works have copyright terms for a given number of years after publication (as opposed to known authors where copyright extends for a number of years after death) so the copyright term is usually shorter. However, if an unknown author subsequently makes themselves known then the work was never in the public domain and they can sue infringes, however, their damages are often more limited.

  • 3. In this scenario, no one knows who the holder is, so it's orphan works. And if I'm not mistaken there are other regulations on that, so it still would be able to acquire a license if not all orphan works would be locked off until it goes into the public domain. But the details of that I'm not familiar with. 4. Isn't the EU + EEA nations bound by the Berne Convention and EU Directives? Making it 70 years after creator death, making it a common EU duration? And when the author is unknown, and the original publishing date is unknown, who and how would it be determined to be public domain? – Adrian May 27 at 23:43
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    @Adrian some countries make provision for "orphan" works but most do not - you can treat them as anonymous works that enter public domain X years after publication but if an author comes forward you will be in breach. So, yes, orphan works are generally locked off until they go public domain. The Berne Convention provides minimum time to which signatories must prescribe (25/50 years) but each country can (and most do) provide longer terms - EU nations are not consistent with this. As for your last question - the link to copyright terms deals with anonymous works. – Dale M May 28 at 2:10
  • Oh, ok, thanks. One final question, since the creation and first publication date is unknown, would the oldest know publication be used instead until other information is available? Couldn't see that answered in the links you shared. – Adrian May 28 at 12:02

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