Julian Sanchez ponders the problem of "orphan works"--copyrighted material that is still within our nation's absurd copyright terms, but where the owners cannot be found. This is the issue that seems to have brought down the Google Books settlement.
As Julian notes, it's puzzling that this hasn't been resolved. Julian asks "Who's the rational veto player here?" and I can't think of an obvious candidate. And yet, congress has not seen fit to do something about the problem, even though resolving it would seem to be a rare example of pareto improving legislation: readers get to enjoy the material, while the copyright holders, who aren't collecting royalties now, are no worse off.
I suspect the answer is either that Congress simply overlooked this issue, or that there is some reason to block it that Julian and I don't understand. I know I have IP people among my readership, so . . . which is it?