Orphaned works are that special case in copyright law. You can tell, roughly, when they were created, but you can't find the owner.
It effects books, newspaper or magazine articles, or films that are still protected by copyright but for which the copyright holders cannot be located. The creator dies, the publisher shuts down, the distributor left.
But the copyright remains.
Its come up since the Irish Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has put out a call for comments about the changes for EU legislation (at http://www.djei.ie/science/ipr/copyright.htm )
Sadly, since its the Irish government, its released as a pdf file, but laws shouldn't be copyrightable. The deadline for comments is Wednesday April 23 2014.
Comments go to the "Orphan Works Consultation, Copyright Section, Intellectual Property Unit, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation", not me.?
DJEI – Intellectual Property Unit: Copyright and Related Rights
Public Consultation on Transposition of the Orphan Works Directive and the Use of Orphan Works under Irish Law. The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation invites submissions to the public consultation on the transposition of the Orphan Works Directive (2012/28/EU) into Irish law.