There has been a lot of discussion and a lot of fear among photographers regarding potential orphan works legislation.
A major problem with current copyright law is that it does not provide a way to use a creative work that has been abandoned (no entity can be found to claim ownership). The premise behind an “orphan works” addition to copyright law is that it would provide a means for anyone to make use of copyrighted material that no longer has an owner.
It works by limiting damages that can be claimed if the work truly falls under orphan works protection. If a person wants to use a work they must ask permission from the copyright holder just as they do now. Under the current law, if they can’t find the owner they are out of luck. With the orphan works bill in effect, they could use the work after conducting a diligent search and failing to find the copyright owner. Later, if the original owner shows up, he must be paid fair royalties for the use of the work. It does not limit or change Fair Use.