I may have given the wrong impression with my side comment about the DMCA in my original post on orphan works — it’s important to understand that the Orphan Works issue is only tangentially related to the whole issue of fair use, agressive copyright enforcement and corporate ownership of our culture. Orphan Works is specifically about works where you would happily pay the copyright owner for a license, and the owner would gladly give permission, if only you could discover who the owner was.
For me, the reason for separating this specific problem from the more general issue of indefinite copyright extension, erosion of fair use, etc. is tactical — this is one area that could create a whole lot of good for society in terms of online libraries and the like without entering the rat’s nest of whether fair use is “stealing from the mouths of artists” and the like. I almost said “without going head-to-head with the Copyright Cartel’s moneyed interests,” but that’s not quite accurate. The big media companies still have a huge interest in limiting media that’s available to consumers to their own new releases, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of position they take on the orphan works issue. The nice thing about limiting this particular debate to orphan works is it steals the Cartel’s biggest moral shield, namely artist’s compensation, since in fact many artists would gain from more frictionless licensing, and the few that would lose would be those who never cared enough to renew their copyrights anyway.