Below is a talk by James Boyle (Duke University) called The incredible shrinking public domain taken from a conference of the Open Rights Group a short time ago. In it he talks about the absurdity that vast amounts of books, films and photos are locked away from public view because of existing copyright legislation. These are works that are no longer commercially available but cannot be reproduced due to copyright. Libraries are full of archive material that could be of interest but is sadly almost impossible to trace. It could be scanned and put on to the net. The authors earn nothing from these works any more and in many cases they are dead but due to copyright the works are locked away for ever.
Boyle calls this a black hole whereby copyright law has cut us off from our collective heritage. He does not advocate total freedom from copyright. Works that are still commercially viable may happily continue to generate income but the vast majority of material will never generate a penny so why not let it out into the light of the public domain?
This reminds me of an example I heard from a colleague about how a museum's collection of 19th century photos were released with Creative Commons licences. These photos had not been seen by anyone for dozens of years but within a few months some of them had been viewed by thousands of people on Flickr.
[ORGCon] James Boyle: The Incredible Shrinking Public Domain from Open Rights Group on Vimeo.