Lighthouse at Two Lights, 1929 (oil on canvas) by Edward Hopper (1882-1967) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA Photograph © The Bridgeman Art LibraryChop Suey, 1929 (oil on canvas) by Edward Hopper (1882-1967) Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Barney A. Ebsworth, Photograph © The Bridgeman Art LibraryDrug Store, 1927 (oil on canvas) by Edward Hopper (1882-1967) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, USA Photograph © The Bridgeman Art LibrarySea Watchers, 1952 (oil on canvas) by Edward Hopper (1882-1967) Private Collection, Photograph © Lefevre Fine Art Ltd., London/The Bridgeman Art Library
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What is an Orphan Work?

Orphan Works are works of art (and other copyrighted material) that are believed or known to be in copyright but whose copyright owner is unknown or untraceable.

What are the problems?

The uncertainty around the copyright holder of an orphan work of art prevents it from being used. This inhibits access to, exploitation of and promotion of Europe's cultural heritage:

Artists and artists' estates:

The creative artists and / or the copyright holders of orphan works are losing income from both from the reproduction of their works and through any sales of their works which could occur through promotion via picture libraries or other means.

Picture libraries:

Picture libraries sell reproduction licenses for the use of their images in creative media (including books, newspapers, films, advertising, packaging etc.) for a limited period of time. Many orphan works can be found in picture libraries but their use, sale and promotion is inhibited because clients are often reluctant to adopt the legal liability for the use of an image where they cannot gain permission from the copyright holder. This restrains income potential for
the picture libraries, museums, galleries and collections and hinders any hope to repatriate orphan works with their copyright holders.

Image users:

Publishers, advertisers, educators and the general public are inhibited from promoting or using the art depicted within an orphan work because they are concerned about their legal liability. This prevents further creative use of the orphan work and removes any cultural value that the work of art may offer.

Links to relevant resources

The WATCH File

The WATCH File is a database of copyright contacts for writers, artists, and prominent figures in other creative fields. WATCH should be the first step in your search for a copyright holder.


Under the Distributed Content Framework project (EMII-DCF), Tate is assisting in compiling a document on the Legal Requirements for content holders and users in IPR, Data Protection and Human Rights.

The National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery has an ongoing programme of copyright research, ensuring that the rights information on works held in its collections is accurate and up-to-date.