For the 2009 film, see Orphan.
The exact origin of the term orphan film is unclear. By the 1990s, however, film archivists were commonly using this colloquialism to refer to motion pictures abandoned by their owners. Before the end of the decade, the phrase emerged as the governing metaphor for film preservation, first in the United States, then internationally.
Historians and archivists define the term in both a narrow and a broad sense. A report from the Librarian of Congress, Film Preservation 1993, offered a first definition. As a category of so-called orphan works, orphan films are those “that lack either clear copyright holders or commercial potential” to pay for their preservation. However, a much wider group of works fall under the orphan rubric when the term is expanded to refer to all manner of films that have been neglected. The neglect might be physical (a deteriorated film print), commercial (an unreleased movie), cultural (censored footage) or historical (a forgotten World War I-era production).
This broader conception is typically illustrated by a list of orphaned genres. In Redefining Film Preservation: A National Plan (1994), the Librarian of Congress enumerated newsreels, actuality footage, silent films, experimental works, home movies, independent fiction and documentary films, political commercials, amateur footage, along with advertising, educational and industrial films as culturally significant orphans. To this the National Film Preservation Foundation adds animation, ethnic films, anthropological footage, and fragments. (See "What Are Orphan Films".)
Within a decade the epithet was adopted by scholars and educators. In The Film Experience: An Introduction (2004), for example, Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White include a section on orphan films, defining them simply as "Any sort of films that have survived but have no commercial interests to pay the costs of their preservation." 
Defined in this way, more films are orphans than not. Many are more accurately described as “footage,” recordings shot on celluloid but not intended to be completed works or theatrical releases. The millions of feet of home movies and newsreel outtakes alone outnumber the quantity of film stock used to make all of the feature films ever released by Hollywood studios.
Orphan film movement
The resurgent interest in these films is due to their rich value as cultural and historical artifacts. Documentarians, filmmakers, historians, curators, collectors and scholars have joined forces with archivists because they deem orphans not only historical documents, but also evidence of alternative, suppressed, minority or forgotten histories.
Since 1999, hundreds of these devotees have gathered for the biennial Orphan Film Symposium. In 2001, members of these professions began referring to an “orphan film movement.” As archivist-scholar Caroline Frick has written, some of the most active participants identify themselves as “orphanistas,” passionate advocates for saving, studying and screening neglected cinema. In 2004, visual anthropologist Emily Cohen wrote that the movement's creative and intellectual ferment constituted an “Orphanista Manifesto.”  More pragmatically, in the United States the group's rising influence affected discourse and policies about copyright reform, joining the broader media reform movement. Examples of this include the 2003 Supreme Court case Eldred v. Ashcroft and the 2006 Copyright Office Report on Orphan Works. In September 2008, the U.S. Senate passed a bill (S.2913) "to provide a limitation on judicial remedies in copyright infringement cases involving orphan works," but the House of Representatives adjourned before addressing the measure. Similar legislation is scheduled to be reintroduced in 2009.
Although U.S. copyright stakeholders confine their discussion to the narrower definition of an orphan (a work with no identifiable rights holder), the broader conception—an orphan film as a neglected object—continues to be used internationally. Film archivists working quite separately in different nations have used the orphan metaphor for a decade. At the Cinemateca de Cuba, for example, the term "huérfanos" has been used to conceptualize the lost and abandoned works of Cuban film history, its "huerfanidad." The Nederlands Filmmuseum preserves and programs its "Bits & Pieces" series of unidentified film fragments, its "foundlings." The China Film Archive in Beijing uses a translatable orphan film metaphor as well.
Another indication of the international interest in orphan films was filmmaker Martin Scorsese's announcement of a World Cinema Foundation (WCF) at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Press reports stated that the WCF would preserve "orphan" films. By 2008, however, the WCF's mission statement referred only to "neglected" films rather than orphans, as the foundation helps fund preservation of lesser known theatrical motion pictures, which remain under the legal ownership of some party. World Cinema Foundation
In April 2008, members of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) unanimously endorsed a "Declaration on Fair Use and Access". The ninth of its ten points simply states: "FIAF supports efforts to clarify the legal status of 'orphan' motion pictures and related promotional and historical materials for the purpose of preservation and public access." More recently, on June 4, 2008, the European Union announced the signing of a new "Memorandum of Understanding" on orphan works. The EU's Digital Libraries Initiative produced the statement. Signatories from included the key institutions in moving image archiving and representatives of rights-holders: Association Des Cinematheques Europeennes (ACE), the British Library, European Film Companies Alliance (EFCA), Federation Europeenne Des Realisateurs De L'audiovisuel (FERA), Federation Internationale Des Associations De Producteurs De Films (FIAPF), and the International Federation Of Film Distributors (FIAD).EU Press Release on Orphan Works
- ↑ Gregory Lukow, "The Politics of Orphanage: The Rise and Impact of the 'Orphan Film' Metaphor on Contemporary Preservation Practice", paper delivered at the University of South Carolina symposium, "Orphans of the Storm: Saving Orphan Films in the Digital Age", September 23, 1999. http://www.sc.edu/filmsymposium/archive/orphans2001/lukow.html . As early as October 1950 Industrial Marketing magazine referred to 16mm industrial sales movies as orphan films. Restoration expert Robert Gitt was quoted using the metaphor as early as 1992, to refer to silent-era films, newsreels, and kinescopes. Robert Epstein, “Mining Hollywood's Old Movie Gold,” Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1992, p. F1.
- ↑ Film Preservation 1993: A Study of the Current State of American Film Preservation: Report of the Librarian Of Congress, by Annette Melville and Scott Simmon, Washington, DC: NFPB/LOC, 1993. http://www.loc.gov/film/study.html
- ↑ Redefining Film Preservation: A National Plan; Recommendations of the Librarian Of Congress in Consultation with the National Film Preservation Board, coordinated by Annette Melville and Scott Simmon, Washington, DC: NFPB/LOC, 1994. http://www.loc.gov/film/plan.html
- ↑ Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White, The Film Experience: An Introduction (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004), 391-98. They add to the list of orphaned genres government-produced films, citing What You Should Know about Biological Warfare (1952) This film is viewable as a digital file at http://www.archive.org/details/WhatYouS1952 as part of the Prelinger Collection of “ephemeral films.” Collector-activist Rick Prelinger is one of the people most responsible for raising awareness of orphan films.
- ↑ Caroline Frick, Restoration Nation: Motion Picture Archives and 'American' Film Heritage, PhD diss. University of Texas at Austin, 2005, UT Austin library PDF; Emily Cohen, “The Orphanista Manifesto: Orphan Films and the Politics of Reproduction,” American Anthropologist (December 2004), 719-31.
- ↑ Dan Streible, "The Role of Orphan Films in the 21st Century Archive," Cinema Journal 46.3 (Spring 2007): 124-28.
- Boyle, James, et al. Access to Orphan Films, submission to the Copyright Office, from the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, Duke University Law School, March 2005.
- Cherchi Usai, Paolo. "What Is an Orphan Film? Definition, Rationale, Controversy." Paper delivered at the symposium "Orphans of the Storm: Saving Orphan Films in the Digital Age", University of South Carolina, September 23, 1999. Transcript at http://www.sc.edu/filmsymposium/archive/orphans2001/usai.html
- Cherchi Usai, Paolo. "Are All (Analog) Films 'Orphans'? A Pre-digital Appraisal," The Moving Image 9.1 (2009): 1-18.
- Coffey, Liz. “Orphans of the Storm III: Listening to Orphan Films,” The Moving Image 3.2 (Fall 2003): 128–32.
- Cullum, Paul. “Orphanistas! Academics and Amateurs Unite to Save the Orphan Film,” L.A. Weekly, Apr. 26, 2001.
- Fishman, Stephen. The Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-free Writing, Music, Art, & More, 3rd ed. Berkeley, CA: Nolo, 2006.
- Horak, Jan-Christopher. “Editor's Introduction,” The Moving Image 6.2 (2006), vi-viii.
- Horak, Jan-Christopher. “The Strange Case of The Fall of Jerusalem: Orphans and Film Identification,” The Moving Image 5.2 (2005), 26-49.
- Libby, Jenn. "Foundling Films: Orphans 5: Science, Industry and Education", Afterimage (May/June 2006), 11.
- Longo, Regina. “Fifth Orphan Film Symposium: Science, Industry, and Education,” The Moving Image 7.1 (Spring 2007): 92–94;
- Orgeron, Devin. “Orphans Take Manhattan: The 6th Biannual Orphan Film Symposium,” Cinema Journal 48, no.2 (Winter 2009): 114–18.
- “‘Orphan Films’ Course to Screen Eight Neglected Works at Guild,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 23, 1979.
- Prelinger, Rick. The Field Guide to Sponsored Films. San Francisco: National Film Preservation Foundation, 2006.
- Prelinger, Rick, with Raegan Kelly. “Panorama Ephemera,” Vectors: Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular, vol. 2.
- Streible, Dan. “The Role of Orphan Films in the 21st Century Archive,” Cinema Journal 46, no.3 (Spring 2007): 124–28.
- Streible, Dan. "The State of Orphan Films: Editor's Introduction," The Moving Image 9.1 (2009): vi-xix.
- Ziebell Mann, Sarah. “A Meditation on the Orphan, via the University of South Carolina Symposium,” AMIA Newsletter 47 (Winter 2000), 30, 33.
- Orphan Film Symposium websites at New York University (Cinema Studies Dept., Tisch School of the Arts),  and at the University of South Carolina (Film and Media Studies Program, College of Arts & Sciences), , including "What is an orphan film?" http://www.sc.edu/filmsymposium/orphanfilm.html. These sites include audio recordings of talks given at the symposia.
- National Film Preservation Foundation