News about Google Print raises some interesting questions.
If John has the only copy in existance of a physical book of which content not available anywhere, and its copyrights have expired, what rights does John have over the content of the book?
If Dave makes a deal with John to digitize the book's content, what rights does Dave have over the digitized content?
Dave has a virtual instance of the book, so he also has full access control. Can Dave provide online access to the book's content under whatever terms he dictates?
Now replace John with an public or government-funded institution. What rights does the we have over the book and it's digitized contents?
Another twist. Suppose Evan breaks into Dave's system, takes a copy of the digitized content, and posts it in newsgroups which Phil downloads. Did Phil break any laws? Can Phil use the content?
I am not a copyright lawyer so I don't know the answers to these questions. Perhaps Professor Lessig can answer.
To me, ownerless doesn't mean community property. It means free for the taking. Google is doing exactly that, taking. I have mixed feelings about what they are doing. On one side, they are making new information readily available which is good. On the other side, they seem to be claiming stewardship over orphaned information.