It may not be you it seems. Or so says the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act which received royal assent last week.
You probably thought, and until last week the law would have agreed with you, that as the creator of your work you owned it, and that others could not use of profit from the work without permission. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform act includes changes to UK copyright law that allows anyone to use ‘orphan works’ for commercial or non-commercial use, including sub-licensing them.
As you might imagine, quite a lot hangs on what counts as an orphan work, but from what I can tell that’s all a bit vague. Essentially it would include any photo or work where the original creator isn’t known or can’t be traced. The question really is how photo’s that you might post on Facebook or Flickr would be treated. If they don’t have metadata tying them to you, and a decent search doesn’t reveal you as the owner can someone claim you can’t be traced?
The act does state that someone would have to perform a ‘diligent’ search for the owner of a work, and that the search would have to be validated as diligent by an independent authorising body. Again however it seems to be unclear as to who that is or how the process would work.
While the act will potentially make millions of old works who’s owners are legitimately unknown available for the first time, it’s odd that there hasn’t been more widespread awareness. A few months ago Instagram was hit by a widespread backlash when it suggested something similar.
Hopefully some smart people at the photo sharing sites will provide an option to automatically tag the metadata on photos with account details of the site. Hopefully it would then be difficult for someone to state they couldn’t find you.