Orphans Act- your images up for Grabs?

Although the US Senate passed the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008 a few days ago, hotlined through a back door while most Senators eyes were fixed on the attempts to save the US economy,  there is still actually quite a road to travel before it becomes law, even in the USA, where it still has to pass the House.  And given that it basically alters the whole situation over copyright and intellectual property it isn’t beyond imagination that it could lead to considerable problems between America and the rest of the world, even though its perhaps more likely that many other countries will quickly slip through similar legislation.

Although most photographers are opposed to the ideas behind the US concepts of ‘orphan works’ in this and other bills, there are many others who would welcome the opportunity they offer for free-loading at our expense. These include the education industry, and Internet and media giants. At an earlier stage, Google were licking their lips over the prospect of using a million ‘orphan images‘, although probably even the weak safeguards of Shawn Bentley would queer their proposed piracy. It’s perhaps interesting to see the discussion of orphan works on non-photographic sites such as Public Knowledge.

As PDN comments,  Shawn Bentley does give some further ideas about what might be considered a ‘diligent search‘ and thus what steps we should do to protect our own work. Which of course include making sure our images contain the proper metadata – particularly IPTC copyright and creator data, and considering the use of registries such as PLUS – though it remains to be seen how usable and affordable such systems will be, particularly for low-earning freelances and semi-pro photographers.

Using Lightroom or similar software you can set up templates that add basic metadata to your images as you upload them from card to computer, including in the IPTC copyright section a copyright message, coypright status, rights usage terms and a web address for a page giving copyright information. In my case this part of the preset looks like this:

Rt Click, View image to see larger

although I’m not sure that these are exactly what are intended for these fields.

Part of any ‘diligent search‘ must surely be to look for image metadata, and I hope one  beneficial aspect of orphan works legislation (which I’m sure we will eventually get) will be to create a greater awareness of the existence of metadata and include the ability to read it into all viewing software.

Another positive result may well be an increased insistence on the proper attribution of published work, though I’m less sure that publishers will bother to do this. It really is something that photographers and their organisations should campaign more about.

I’ve always resisted putting visible watermarks on my images, but its perhaps time to rethink this, or at least to include them in an added image border. Again, software such as Lightroom enables you to automatically add a visible watermark.

Big agencies have for some years used image tracking services such as PicScout to locate unauthorised image use on the web, although these are perhaps too expensive for most freelances.  You can try out the Tin Eye beta from Idée – the easiest way to use it is to install the browser plug in and then right-click on your image on a web page and let it search. But so far its image data base seems too small to find any of mine – even where I know they are in use legitimately on other pages.

You will also need to be very careful about using image sharing services, both to look at what rights you are giving away, and also to see if your metadata is retained when the images are shown on the pages.

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