Anyone who has ever posted a photograph onto Facebook, Instagram or any other online web site (which is probably just about anyone who owns a camera these days) should be aware of the so called ‘Instagram Act’ just passed by the UK Government. The Register has details here but basically:
“The Act contains changes to UK copyright law which permit the commercial exploitation of images where information identifying the owner is missing, so-called “orphan works”, into what’s known in the jargon as “extended collective licensing” schemes. Since most digital images on the internet today are orphans – the metadata is missing or has been stripped by a large organisation – then millions of photographs and illustrations are swept into such schemes.”
The proper name for this act is the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill (ERR) and it gives Britain the dubious honor of being the first country to make exploiting unidentified work legal. The ERR is a wide ranging act intended to reduce the impact of regulation on business. This legislation seems to have slipped in under the radar despite the best intentions of the likes of David Bailey. The part of the act that should give concern to photographers, and other artists who share content online, is summarised thus:
“For the first time orphan works will be licensed for use; these are copyrighted works for which the owner of the copyright is unknown or can’t be found. There will also be a system for extended collective licensing of copyright works;”
Unless you don’t post any work online, ever, it might be a good idea to start watermarking images or at the very least add some metadata to your files identifying you as copyright holder. This unfortunately is no guarantee your images won’t be orphaned as metadata is often stripped out by image hosting sites. It is however a start until online registries become available for users to stake their claim to their images (which will have to be done in advance and probably come at a cost).