- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

Would you feel happy, or somehow that your privacy was invaded, if that stranger put some of your images on the Web to track you down?

A new Web site, www.ifoundyourcamera.net, aims to do exactly that: Using the power and reach of the Internet, it asks people who find cameras, memory sticks or photos to upload and send a few of the images, which are posted for all to see. The intent is for people who visit the site to scroll through the pictures for their lost memories or for faces they know.

In three months, the Web site has had more than 700,000 hits, said Matt Preprost, the blog’s 20-year-old co-founder and operator. Almost 60 people have sent images from cameras or memory sticks they found, and that’s led to eight happy reunions between camera owners and their digital memories, he said.

“I thought that it was something special and unique, but I was unsure of how long it was going to last,” said Mr. Preprost, a student at the University of Winnipeg in Canada. He said most people are “dumbfounded” that such a site exists and aren’t bothered by potential privacy issues.

His site was inspired by a submission to PostSecret.com, where people submit secrets on the Internet via handmade postcards. In early February, one posted “secret” was from someone who found a camera at Lollapalooza and wanted to reunite it with its owner.

Mr. Preprost found it compelling that the person was using PostSecret to try to connect with someone and e-mailed site founder Frank Warren, whom he had interviewed for his college newspaper. By the end of the day, they had started www.ifoundyourcamera.net together.

Mr. Preprost runs the blog - a scroll through its submissions takes you to all corners of the globe - while Mr. Warren said he serves as his mentor.

“I’ve been through a lot of the things he’s going through in terms of trying to create this community and listen to it and respect everybody’s values and allow the community to grow in a self-purposing way,” Mr. Warren said.

Mr. Preprost, who says the site focuses on the stories surrounding the cameras, asks people to send in two pictures that are visually strong, with identifiable people and landmarks. When an owner turns up, he puts them in contact with the person who found their memories.

Brett Moist, a 21-year-old photography student from Crystal Lake, Ill., lost his memory card at Union Station in Chicago during a trip in January. He thought he lost it in Michigan and figured it was long gone.

Then a picture of Mr. Moist and his girlfriend in front of Wrigley Field turned up on Mr. Preprost’s Web site.

“A couple of weeks after I lost it, my girlfriend’s friend randomly stumbled onto the site and went crazy when she saw us,” Mr. Moist said.

Although Mr. Preprost hasn’t run into any problems with people being upset about their pictures being posted online, the site is in a bit of a legal gray area, said R. Bruce Rich, a lawyer with Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York.

Whoever takes a picture owns it and almost any photo is entitled to copyright protection, Mr. Rich said. While Mr. Rich said an argument could be made that the Web site makes unauthorized copies of pictures, it’s clear the intent of the site is to get cameras back to their rightful owners, not to deny the camera’s owner any commercial benefit.

Another legal problem could arise, though, if someone who appears in a posted image claims that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy when the picture was taken, Mr. Rich said.

Mr. Preprost said he has remove pictures of anyone who objected. He said most people seem to appreciate the site, like George Metz, a 66-year-old Pennsylvania resident who lost his camera during Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

A picture of him during a visit to Fantasy of Flight in Florida was posted on www.ifoundyourcamera.net. and Mr. Metz heard about it when a fellow member of a Star Wars re-enactment group spotted it - through his computer in Denmark.

It turns out a student at Tulane University School of Medicine had picked up Mr. Metz’s camera after standing near him during a parade.

“It was a real godsend to get this message that she was going to send this back to me,” he said. “There were a few pictures on there I really cared about.”

Mr. Preprost hopes his site will inspire even more acts of kindness.

“I think people are inherently good; it’s just, how many opportunities do we get to do a good thing for a total stranger?” he asked. “If I can inspire others, that’s the one thing I would want to do in my life.”

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