So I see that the Eldred case didn't pass, and that means that copyrights on currently copyrighted materials can be extended ad infinitum . So now, essentially, once a book/movie/song goes out of print, it will be gone for good. When it is no longer a money-maker for its owner - who 99 percent of the time is the publisher and NOT the creator - it will be "archive" and never again see the light of day.
If this kind of thing had been going on a hundred years ago no-one born since 1960 would have ever had the chance to read Emerson, Thoreau, Poe, Lovecraft, Whitman, Dickenson, or any of the foreign works which were translated by Americans. They would all be shelved. Project Gutenberg would not exist. Neither would the Open Source movement. The Electronic Frontier Foundation would be a troup of qixotic mimes.
I do not begrudge authors and publishers the opportunity to make money, or many opportunities to make a lot of money. But the rights to a piece of creativity which is no longer making any money should be given to the public - under the understanding that anyone who is willing to pay for a copy of the thing, already has.
General consensus in the online community suggests that 20 years sounds fair.
Think about it: listening to orchestral music we say "Hey: That's that song Beethoven wrote", not "Hey! That's the piece the Austrian nobility commissioned!"
All is not necessarily lost, however. Lawrence Lessig is working on a proposal which would simultaneously extend the length of copyright and move a great many works into the public domain. Eldred.cc is collecting news articles and legal material relating to this issue.
I have to admit that the snob in me occasional throws out a "So What?" Think about it: 90 percent of everything produced (and by extension copyrighted) is worthless and a blight on modern culture. The fact that the creators bother to copyright Britney and that whole crowd of music androids is rather pathetic. As if having that crap is worth the real estate value of the sectors on my hard drive. The RIAA blames music pirates for the decline in music sales when it should be blaming the producers and artists for creating crap. Michael Eisner is fellating Congress with glee now that he gets to keep the Mouse for another twenty years. Twenty years of Cambodian sweat-shops pumping out cheap plastic Donald Duck bidet spouts.
Frankly I couldn't care less if Disney goes out of business tomorrow, or every member of the RIAA winds up in an oil drum in the Okeefenokee swamp. In 2050 I want to be able to download the complete works of Jim Harrison, surf to a Tom Waits feedsite, and tuck into a plate of Soyent Green. For free.
So that 90% of crap which is created by jacking in to a mixer and jacking off on a microphone can stay copyrighted forever. No-one will care. But those few gems should be available for free, forever.