This is the official blog of the Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts of the Music Division, a part of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, at Lincoln Center, in New York City.
This post covers "orphan works" and also has some very nice illustrations.
With digitization of books being a hot topic, some of you may have heard of the term "orphan works." In brief, an orphan work is a work where the copyright holder can not be found. For musical works, many assume that "the copyright holder" is simply the composer, but this not always true. The copyright holder can be the composer's descendents, relatives, lawyers, or anyone that the creator designates as a legal successor after the creator's death. (When the musical work has been composed "for hire" then the copyright holder could be the corporate entity that commissioned it.)The story mentions composers Jakob Schönberg (1900-1956), Kurt Schindler (1882-1935), Alexander Grechaninov (1864-1956). No heirs have been found for any of the three.
Even when the copyright holder can not be found, generally one is not allowed to reproduce their work. Fortunately, exceptions are made for museums, libraries, archives, and similar institutions when reproducing orphan works for non-commercial study, when such reproductions will not have a negative impact on the value of the product. (You can read more about about the issue at: The “Orphan Works” Problem and Proposed Legislation by Marybeth Peters, The Register of Copyrights.)
Do read the entire blog post at the link above and see how Bob works in genealogy.