The UK coalition government has passed the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act. While the name has seemingly nothing to do with photography or copyright it contains a damaging clause that permits the use of 'orphan works' by all and sundry. The government previously tried to push through orphan works in 2010 but, having been met with considerable opposition, failed to get the amendments voted through. This time however there were sneaky/clever enough to embed the paragraphs around irrelevant (to copyright producers) laws.
The tired argument is that by freeing up copyright it will stimulate growth - both financial and creative - and speed up those boring afternoons spent licencing work when you can't trace the owner of an art work.
It's the same as a law stating that you have to leave your front door unlocked and open to allow sticky fingered crooks an easier path to your TV.
The onus is now completely on the copyright holders (us) to register (at a cost) and chase up payment. End users only have to carry out a 'diligent' search to determine if a piece of work is under copyright - before the assumption was very much ALL WORK is under copyright and if you weren't sure then not to use it. Now the assumption will be that all work is an orphan unless they are told differently.
The act also allows sub-licencing. So a company can sweep up 'orphans' then setup a library licencing that work and collecting a fee for it.
Let's be clear - THIS AFFECTS ALL ASPECTS OF COPYRIGHT - not just photographers but illustrators, animators, painters, writers...
There's a good write up here on the Register
. If you live in the UK I strongly urge you to write to your local MP explaining how this will affect you as an artist, your ability to earn a living and the knock-on effect it will have on artistic works being taken off the internet and kept out of the public domain.