Update 12th May 2008: I'm far from the only photographer concerned about this. For an informed view from the perspective of a clued-up north American photographer, go here. It's a long read, but it's well argued and sets out in detail the potential repercussions of the proposed bills as they stand. There are also some well-reasoned counter-arguments at the end of the post, with some informed individuals cautioning that the initial knee-jerk reaction from many photographers is based on incorrect assumptions. I suggest you read it and make up your own mind. However the checks and balances are worked out, the bill still represents a fundamental shift in copyright law which, on the face of it, will do photographers no favours.
The Orphan Works Bill currently making its way through the US Senate is something that's likely to affect every photographer, musician, videographer, writer and artist on the planet... if it's passed into law. That means you. And by 'affect', I don't mean in a good way.
Yeah, I know. Seb's banging on about copyright again, yaddayadda blahblahblah. But this is something you really should pay attention to, because although - as with all legislative bureacracy - it's not exactly light entertainment catching up on the details, the potential consequences could blow a big hole in your world. Not to mention your bank balance.
Here's the gist: if this bill is passed, any image, anywhere in the world, that isn't registered with a US-based commerical copyright registry, is liable to be defined as an 'orphan' (in other words, ownership can't be proved). Under the proposed terms of the bill, such orphans are effectively free for use. Some photographers have called the bill a thieves' charter.
Under exisiting international copyright law you don't have to do a thing to protect your creative works; the copyright is automatically yours. Under the proposed changes you will only have the full protection afforded by copyright if you register with one of the privately-run, US-based copyright registries.
In effect this means that the vast majority of photographic imagery - whether pro or amateur - could be up for grabs, for free, by corporate America.
And yes, that potentially includes all your images on your Flickr account. Heck, it could include the whole of Flickr.
There's more to it than that, and I suggest you follow this link to find out more. Or listen to this podcast:
If this isn't bad enough in its global implications, whatever passes into law in the US is bound to affect the upcoming review of copyright laws in the UK. And, er, did I mention it's not likely to be in a good way?