"Then what would be the legal status of of the legacy public domain base?"

It would be hard to generalize about this because of so many factors. What country is it public domain in and why (copyright expiration? Because the author abandoned it (and maybe other countries won't recognize that)? Unless it's very old it's probably not free of copyright restrictions on a worldwide basis.

For example to quote from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Public_domain: "However, some countries make exceptions to this rule. A notorious case is Germany, which has had a bilateral treaty with the U.S. governing copyright since January 15, 1892. That treaty, which is still in effect, defined that a U.S. work was copyrighted in Germany according to German law irrespective of the work's copyright status in the U.S., and it did not contain a "rule of the shorter term". In one case, a German court therefore decided that a U.S. work that had fallen into the public domain in the U.S. was still copyrighted in Germany in 2003 in spite of ยง7(1) of the EU directive."

"There is an immense database of works without even a trace to their origins."

Yes, automatic copyright means that orphan works are a problem:

And the continued retroactive copyright terms that the U.S. keeps doing don't help this.

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