The critical debates about this issue are curiously absent from mass media, and that’s no coincidence. Fortunately, a lot of eloquent and important discussion is being conducted online about these issues, and hopefully they will collectively help to weaken these industries’ efforts to take away our existing rights of first purchase and fair use.
Important links for these discussions are to the extraordinary work of the EFF, much of which is documented on its weblogs and to the weblogs of its members, such as Boing Boing, run by Cory Doctorow.
One of the few strong advocates of consumer rights from the legal profession is Lawrence Lessig, whose book The Future of Ideas lays out the social and economic implications, and hints at the political implications, of the increasing permanence of copyrights. These ideas were the basis for the development of his idea of a Creative Commons, where creators, authors, and artists can choose what parts of existing copyright they wish to waive on their creations in order to foster the growth of more ideas and expression in the future.
The current state of intellectual property law is such that any creation or expression right now is forced to be a fruit with no seeds. Agriculture and cultivation would have stopped if, once a perfectly tart and sweet apple was grown, anyone who ate it was forbidden from planting its seeds to grow another. But that’s what the DMCA and its brethren laws are trying to do to the public discourse right now, sterilize ideas as soon as they become public, preventing them from germinating any future concepts.
Professor Lessig paints an eloquent picture of how Disney, through the careful marketing of public domain works like Aladdin and The Little Mermaid and Snow White, has amassed enough political and financial power to prevent any of their creations from ever being contributed to the future public domain. Besides being rank hypocrisy, it serves as an obvious sign that they’re not even concerned for their own future growth, as long as they don’t have to lose any of their ill-gotten control today.