EU ministers have backed new laws to allow libraries, museums and universities - among other organisations - to digitise copyrighted material which have no identified owner.
The works which have been "orphaned" from their creators can include books, films and music that currently lie in storage and, due to copyright law, cannot be used without permission until the term of copyright expires.
Under the terms of a new Directive the various public bodies will be permitted to copy the orphan works into their digital archives under certain conditions.
The bodies will have to conduct a "diligent search" for the owner of the works' copyright before they digitise the material and publish the search results for others to see.
Individuals who come forward to claim ownership of orphan works after they have been digitised would be entitled to claim compensation for the use of their works.
In July, the UK Government outlined separate plans for new laws on orphan works generally, under which the works could be utilised for commercial as well as non-commercial use.
Source: The Register