Endangered large

Digital materials where copyright is uncertain, disputed or unknowable meaning that preservation actions are constrained or prevented.

Group: Orphaned Works

Trend: New Entry

Consensus Decision

Added to List: 2017

Last update: 2019

Previous category: Endangered

Imminence of Action

Action is recommended within three years, detailed assessment within twelve months

Significance of Loss

The loss of tools, data or services within this group would impact on many people and sectors.

Effort to Preserve

It would require a major effort to address losses in this group, possibly requiring the development of new preservation tools or techniques.


Photographs, music recordings, literature. A specific example is elements of The National Disc of the BBC Domesday Project outside of legal deposit mandate where the copyright owner cannot be traced.

‘Critically Endangered’ in the Presence of Aggravating Conditions

Lack of documentation; dependencies resulting from hardware, software or media; lack of use resulting in lack of priority; lack of strategic investment in digital preservation; workflows that inhibit preservation of content that has not been licensed; encryption; poor storage.

Vulnerable in the Presence of Good Practice

Preservation pathway enabled; proven preservation plan applied; active effort to resolve IPR issues; institutional willingness to take risks for preservation.

2019 Review

There is little evidence of any renewed effort to address the issue of orphaned works since 2017. Improvement to the baseline competence of the archival and library professions in their understanding of copyright and the skills to preserve contents, provides a narrow basis for optimism in some contexts but the scale of the challenge is likely to have grown just as quickly if not more so, and aggravating conditions become more prevalent too.

Additional Jury Comments

The Jury would encourage organizations to take a risk-based approach which would help them preserve collections. Copyright infringements are only likely to become a significant issue in the context of access, and in most cases the likelihood of any specific action is small. Preservation needs to be presented as a social good, one without which copyright holders would simply be unable to benefit from the property rights they seek to protect.

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