Due in part to expansions of copyright law lobbied for by Disney and other giants, a huge volume of writing, art and music which would otherwise by now have entered the public domain is still under copyright, even though the rights to much of it — things like picture postcards, ephemeral commercial illustration and sheet music issued by long-defunct publishers or with no identifying marks at all — cannot be traced to any particular current successor-owner even by good faith efforts. Per Wired News:
According to comments submitted to the copyright office, one married couple couldn’t get a wedding photograph repaired: The photography shop would not scan and reprint the photo because it was taken by a professional and the shop was afraid of violating copyright, even though the photographer was out of business.
“For heaven’s sake, this is a photograph of me and my wife, and I can’t have it legally repaired!!! Wrong, wrong, wrong!” wrote William Haynes.
(Katie Dean, “Copyright Reform to Free Orphans?”, Apr. 12).