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What is Anonymous Work?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Anonymous work is creative work produced by an unknown person. There are a number of reasons why the identity of a creator may be concealed, ranging from concerns about safety to the obscurity of time. Such works are protected by applicable copyright laws and if the creator is revealed while the copyright is still in force, the copyright will revert to the creator. In the United States, for example, anonymous works are copyright for 120 years from the date of creation or 95 years from the date of first publication, whichever has an earlier date of expiration.

Creators may be truly unknown, or simply undisclosed. Sometimes publishers work with people who wish to remain anonymous and publish the work anonymously, although they remain aware of the creator's identity. The published piece is considered anonymous work because the creator's name is not made available to members of the public and steps are taken to ensure concealment, such as destroying or securing records with the creator's name and identifying information on them.

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It is not uncommon for very old pieces of creative work to be considered anonymous because the creator's name has been lost to time. Fragments of poetry, unsigned artworks, and works published pseudonymously may have had creators known to the public at the time, but the information does not successfully carry through the centuries. This also is the case with photos submitted to pools, a common practice in the 20th century that sometimes resulted in confusion about the identities of photographers; some very iconic works of photography are attributed to anonymous photographers.

People may choose to produce an anonymous work because they are concerned about the impact the work may have on their social standing or personal safety. Exposes are often published anonymously or under false names, as revealing the author's name could provide information about sources or expose the author to risks, especially for people writing in repressive countries. In these cases, care is taken by the publisher to fact check the anonymous work and confirm the validity of the information as much as possible.

The application of copyright laws to anonymous work can sometimes be a source of frustration. Legally, such works cannot be reproduced without the consent of the creator or an authorized agent. If a piece has been published, it may be possible to obtain consent for reproduction from the publisher, if the publisher is authorized to act as an agent. Otherwise, legally, people must wait for the term of the copyright to expire.

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