orphan works

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An orphan work, according to the U.S. Copyright Office, is a work that is protected by copyright but whose copyright owner cannot be readily identified or located. Orphan works interrupt the creation of new work by compromising the users’ ability to seek permission or negotiate licensing terms. Orphan works may include photos or documents that have been stored for a long time or that have been created through informal collaborations, such as the Wikipedia page, where the exact author is unknown. 

[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]