Lawrence Lessig gives a wonderful speech here that is absolutely worth viewing if you don't already believe that our copyright laws need a serious overhaul. The speech is sprinkled with video clips which makes it more fun to watch.
Essentially, I think (and Lessig wisely follows my lead) that copyright law is a good thing. It encourages the creation of art because the creator knows they have an opportunity to make money. For example, without copyright law, Wal-mart could find good (or popular) books, have them printed in China and them sell them without paying the author a cent. They have a powerful distribution channel and could easily sell more copies of the book than the author could on his own. They would be stealing the fruits of his labor. Copyright stops this from happening, and rightly so.
On the other hand, copyrights that last too long or prevent the reuse of material are bad. They mandate an artificial scarcity of a resource. There is no monetary harm to an author if I make a copy of her work; I will have borne the costs of reproduction. The only harm would be the disincentive to create. I'm told that the original copyright laws gave an author 14 years. That seems entirely reasonable and would preserve a good balance between incentives to create and the natural growth of the public domain.
Lessig gives an example in his speech of a movie that cost a boy a few hundred dollars to create. It sounds like he ran around with a camcorder for a few years and then mixed the clips into a movie worthy of winning an award at Cannes. Further research showed that it would cost this young man over $400,000 to secure the rights to reproduce the songs that were playing in the background in different scenes in the movie. This is a tough case and I'm not sure how I'd come down on it. I lean toward agreeing that the boy should pay the artists for using their music if it goes into a commercial creation. But only music created recently. Trying to track back rights to a song created 70 years ago, for instance, is a barrier to creativity rather than an enhancement.
Let common sense prevail. Let's bring copyright law under control.