Recently there have been quite a few copyright-related posts which came up in my feedreader. This is of course a complicated and layered problem which can’t be solved in the couple of paragraphs of this blogpost, but at least I can post a bunch of great materials which should contribute to the edification of all of us.
From comixtalk.com: Copyright Is Not theft
Also from comixtalk: Nina Paley Discusses State of Sita Sings The Blues. This is an animated movie (which you can watch for free) that had legal problems because of the backing soundtrack, even though the music in question was created in 1920, so it should be in the public domain.
You might also be interested in the documentary rip! a remix manifesto (embedded below for your convenience). It is a documentary (Michael Moore style) talking about the issue. And while it isn't perfect, it manages to raise a lot of interesting issues (BTW, personally I find the songs on the Grey Album much better than the originals on the Black album - just a random example how derivative works can improve the original):
Finally here is a presentation from TED comparing industries with different level of copyright protection (via Slashdot):
This should be enough information to keep you outraged for weeks :-)
PS. Just a quick rundown of my current opinion: all works are derivative. But even if we skip over this, long copyright stifles innovation. And even if we don’t consider (or don’t accept) this premise, labelling all copying as “theft” is (depending) wrong, (possibly purposefully) misleading and unethical. For example I posses the copyright for all the materials published on this blog (since it is my original work), but I explicitly grant anyone to reuse the content under the conditions of the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.
PS #2: An other interesting documentary to watch is Patently absurd. I didn't include it above because it deals with patent law, not copyright, two domains which are frequently bundled together under the term "Intellectual Property" (together with trademark law), but the fact is that these three domains are completely separate and the laws governing them are distinct, ergo I didn't want to add to the confusion.
PS #3: Technology != Breaking the law. Just because I use bittorrent, it doesn't mean that I'm breaking the copyright law! I might be very well downloading a Linux ISO (as I frequently do), one of the many free (as in freedom) material from Clearbits (previosuly legaltorrents) or a World of Warcraft patch for that matter.