The San Francisco Bay Guardian politics blog had an item yesterday on the orphan works bill:
"The bill would deem 'orphaned' any copyrighted work whose author can’t be located by a 'reasonably diligent search.' Artists fear that vague standard could allow individuals and corporations to steal artwork for any personal or commercial purpose after going through the motions of search. The artwork could then to deemed part of the public domain, preventing creators from claiming ownership and compensation for their work."
Again, I think this overstates the case. First, if the copyright holder discovers the use, she will in most cases be entitled to "reasonable compensation." (Which is not nothing: what is the counterargument -- that she should be entitled to unreasonable compensation?) And second, an unsuccessful search doesn't forever throw the work into the public domain or "prevent creators from claiming ownership." The overall copyright status of the work doesn't change.
Meanwhile, Editor & Publisher is reporting that, contrary to earlier reports, the bill might come up for a vote in the House as early as today.