Originally Posted by speakingtohe
Of course they can, but it is not always legal, moral or ethical. For one thing you or I or any university, cannot just decide a book is an orphaned work.
A certain effort must be made to determine this. And of course even if the rights holder does not respond, which they are under no legal or moral or ethical obligation to do so, they can still decide to sue you and would likely win.
AFAIK any book that is still in print or sold in bookstores is not orphaned.
Even public domain books contain some caveats. A forward or illustrations, for example or even formatting can not be included if they were added recently (last 50 years or so) without permission.
Once a book is printed/viewed by an other, the book becomes public knowledge. If the book is at any time not being viewed it is an orphan. It is then imperative for the betterment of all that the book be viewed. Anything that can be done to achieve this goal is ethical and moral.
I suppose we can view morality on a sliding scale though, mass free distribution of a "non-owned" text would be at one end, while the selling of a single pirated copy would be on another, I do not advocate either because I cannot.
We would probably need to create the technological utopia before we can determine on a second by second basis whether any text is being viewed but if we can imagine it, it is already done.
It is probably best to just think of every work as an orphan work, but not in an abandoned sense, every text has a creator who once the text is "finished" sets the book free unto the world. If our digital texts still contain links back to their creator the onus of compensation will always rely on the reader, as it should.
It's funny but it appears to me that a large portion of our mobile entertainment these days is sent to us pre-payment, sometimes ad-supported, sometimes not. Payment can remove ads, or payment can simply be a good faith donation to the creator. I am sure many of us have used this type of compensation method much more frequently recently. It is the way.