This article at Groklaw looks at one option for solving the orphan works problem:
The Copyright Office has been holding hearings on access to "orphan" works. These aren't movies about kids who have lost their parents -- Little Orphan Annie, say. They are works which are still under copyright but have no copyright holder (or no locatable copyright holder.) It might sound esoteric, maybe even boring, But it isn't. Here's why I think it matters. "Orphan works" probably comprise the majority of the record of 20th century culture, and their orphan status means we have practically no access to them. In all likelihood no copyright owner would show up to object if one digitized an old book, restored an orphan film, or used an obscure musical score. But who can afford to take the risk? The normal response of archivists, libraries, film restorers, artists, scholars, educators, publishers, and others is generally to give up -- it is just not worth the hassle and risk. The result? Needlessly disintegrating films, prohibitive costs for libraries, incomplete and spotted histories, thwarted scholarship, digital libraries put on hold, delays to publication. And all of this waste is entirely unnecessary. Is there any solution? Duke's Center for the Study for the Public Domain has produced a report to the Copyright Office that offers one.
Interesting comments from PJ as usual, and interesting comments, so head over there and take a look.