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 itself. It will often look like this:
© John Smith 2009.

On books, the copyright statement often appears on the back of the title page. Copyright owners are generally authors, illustrators or publishers.

If you cannot find the name of the copyright owner, check the record in the Library's catalogue. Here is an example of a catalogue record, with the potential copyright owners emphasised.

Title: The way they were: the view from the hill of the 25 years that remade Australia / Alan Ramsey; with illustrations by Ward O'Neill, Geoff Prior and Michael Mucci
Author: Ramsey, Alan
Description: Sydney : University of New South Wales Press, 2011.
xxvi, 550 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.
ISBN     9781742232713 (pbk.)
Subjects: Journalism - Australia.  |  Political parties - Australia - History - 20th century.  |  Political parties - Australia - History - 21st century.  |  Australia - Politics and government - 1990-2001.  |  Australia - Politics and government - 2001-
Other authors/contributors: O'Neill, Ward, 1951-  |  Prior, Geoff  |  Mucci, Michael, 1962-

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. 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.

Finding copyright owners for rare & unique material

If you wish to find the copyright owner of a rare or unique work in the Library's collection, please ask a librarian. We 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 a work, usually for a fee. Some examples are:

For more Australian agencies, see the Useful copyright 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 (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 use, and hence risk infringing copyright. For instance, some people decide to proceed, but with a statement inviting copyright owners to come forward if they believe their material has been reproduced. 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.

For more information about finding copyright owners see the Australian Copyright Council information sheet Permission: how to get it (G051v12).