Although the copyright systems may be flawed, there is no easy solution to revising it. There are several options, but each method has downside as well as upsides. If copyright laws are to be revised, it will take a lot of thought and care to make the system better instead on inadvertently worsening it. The system may be flawed, but right now, it's the best we've got.
I have to take exception to this, because it is so blatantly false that it's almost laughable. The current regime of copyright (in the United States anyway; other countries are being pressured to follow suit nonetheless, see TRIPS, WIPO, GATT, and WTO) had been created by what is quite clearly a corrupt legislature that has been blinded by money and has forgotten the real reason why copyright exists in the first place. Even a minor adjustment in the right direction like the Eric Eldred Act would do a world of good methinks, so it's ridiculous to say that "it's the best we've got." Arguably, we have reached the point where it almost can't possibly get any worse.
The above writeup first of all propagates a dangerous misconception that probably made AaronStJ say that copyright reform is a difficult task:
Copyright laws were drafted to protect the 'intellectual property' of artists and other innovators. Copyright laws (sic) states that an artist is given sole ownership of his work, and can prohibit others from copying it without his or her permission. This makes it possible for artists to make a living, by selling the rights of their work to publishers.
This may be how copyright actually works in practice, but it is hardly why copyright laws were created. Copyright law is not an attempt to "strike a balance" (a favored term among those who promulgate this misconception) between the rights of authors and the rights of the public. Copyright law rather tries to strike a balance between two sometimes conflicting interests of the public:
- The public wants there to be a rich and great variety of high-quality works available for its consumption
- The public also wants these works to be easily and readily available at minimum cost
A simple analogy would be the way all governments around the world handle public works projects like dams, highways, and bridges. In the construction of such things two conflicting needs of the public must also be balanced: the interests of the public to have the best quality and safest project possible, and their interest in not spending too much in order to construct the project, because there might be other more pressing needs. Obviously no one will build a bridge or a dam for free, so the government then has to decide how best to spend the public's money.
The copyright system is the same, except that in this case, the government isn't spending or saving public money, it decides to spend or save the public's rights and liberties when it makes decisions with regards to copyright. Copyright is by its very nature an abridgement of freedom of speech, but this abridgement of free speech is done in order to motivate authors to create more and varied works for the public to consume. "To promote the progress of science and the useful arts," as the Copyright Clause in the Constitution of the United States of America puts it. No responsible government should take these kinds of decisions lightly, as squandering the freedoms of its citizenry has far more harmful societal effects than a mere waste of money.
With this concept of copyright in mind, copyright reform is not such a daunting a task as it first seems. A government attempting to undertake this task need only take the needs and requirements of its citizens as its first priority (which is why most governments exist anyway in the first place!), and the rest should follow from there. There are two main parameters that a government can control with respect to copyrights: what privileges are actually granted to holders of copyrights (and what rights are taken away from the public in return) and how long these privileges are maintained by the copyright holder.
First, take one truly extreme case: no copyright at all. No privileges are granted to authors and no rights are abridged from the public. Surprisingly enough, and contrary to AaronStJ's assertions above, art forms such as music and literature (and computer software as well), would not "cease to exist." Nothing could be further from the truth! Copyright didn't exist in the days of William Shakespeare or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but they still managed to produce some of the greatest works of literature and music that the world has ever seen, still unsurpassed by today's authors and composers who supposedly have the "benefits" of copyright. People like Richard M. Stallman and Linus Torvalds create software with what is for all intents and purposes an absence of copyright, but that has not stopped their software from being useful, powerful, and of generally excellent quality. So there is still a "zero point energy", as it were, of human creativity that can do truly remarkable things even in the absence of any privileges granted in exchange for the act of creation.
Another consideration is that the abridgement of freedoms caused by copyright is actually harmful to creative endeavor when it reaches a certain point. This is because much human creativity depends on the works of others, and if other authors have been granted so much power for such a long period of time to prevent others from using their creations, that in turn causes creativity to stifle. This is why the public domain and fair use policies are so important. For this reason, some thinkers (such as FSF counsel Eben Moglen) even go so far as to say that human creativity flourishes in spite of rather than because of the existence of very strong copyright, and there actually does seem to be a strong argument for this assertion. Freedom encourages creativity.
It is, of course, not perfect, as there indeed many creative works are desired by the public that no one would do as a labor of love, as many of those works produced without copyrights are. Consider the continuing inability of the open source software movement to create a cohesive, usable desktop environment that mere mortals can actually use and understand. Microsoft, however much their software is so often scathingly described as bloated and buggy, has at least succeeded in this.
The other extreme example is today's copyright regime. Copyright lasts practically forever, thanks to the travesty that is the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act, and embarrasments such as the DMCA and the impending SSSCA/CBDTPA have granted copyright holders sweeping powers over many forms of creative endeavor, almost enough to transform a nominally "democratic" nation like the United States into the first approximation of a totalitarian police state. Sure, we've got plenty of content, but this content tends to be bland, of low quality trained to the mass market, and has very little in the way of innovation and originality. The Big Brother of the copyright police is constantly looking over your shoulder to make sure you don't "steal" anything. To take the analogy between public works projects above, today's copyright regime might be the equivalent of building an immense bridge that completely covers a river below it at horrendous cost to the public. Public loses the benefits of the river as well. No responsible government would authorize such an extravagance.
Of course, the best deal for the public lies somewhere in between, but one is inevitably led to suspect that the optimum lies closer to the situation where there are no copyrights at all. Shorter terms for copyrights, less privileges granted to copyright holders would seem to be the best. Not zero, of course. The reality still is that there are things that are the public would want that no one would do unless they were compensated for it. However, this compensation should remain in proportion to the public's need for these things. This argues that copyrights should have different powers and durations based on what they apply to. Software copyrights might have a very short duration, perhaps 5-10 years, due to the volatility of the market and the shortness of product cycles, and somewhat higher levels of privilege granted. Copyrights on novels and other works of literature might last for 50 or so, as literary works actually increase in value as time goes by, but the powers given by copyright would be somewhat less.
Any government truly committed to the welfare of its citizenry should begin taking steps at reforming copyright with these considerations in mind.