Skip to main content

Finding copyright owners for books and other printed material

To work out who owns the copyright in a work, look for a copyright statement on the work. It will often look like this:

© John Smith 2009

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 State Library's catalogue.

Below is an example of a catalogue record, with the potential copyright owners highlighted in yellow. Copyright owners are generally authors, illustrators, translators or publishers.

Finding copyright owners for books and other printed material, catalogue screencapture

Try contacting the publisher first. 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.

Finding copyright owners for rare and unique material

If you wish to find the copyright owner of a rare or unique work in the State Library's collection, please Ask Us. Staff may be able to provide you with the copyright owner's contact details.

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 work, usually for a fee.

Some examples are:

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 (ASIC).

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 1968 (Cwlth).

What about orphan works?

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.

When an orphan work appears on the State Library's websites is not a guarantee that you can use it for any other purpose. The State Library may have put the digital copy online using one of the exceptions in the Copyright Act 1968 (Cwlth) that apply to libraries. These exceptions are not transferable to the public.

There is material on the State Library's websites which should not be there?

If you as a copyright owner find material on the State Library's websites for which you have not given permission, the State Library's Takedown policy explains the steps that can be taken to contact us.

See also: NSLA's Position statement: Reasonably diligent search for orphan works