There is an interesting public debate on the value of copyright at Economist.com. The first of multiple days starts at
go to Copyright and Wrongs Debate
I contributed the following to the discussion, leading with an little-spoken benefit of copyright that is intended to resonate with the readership of The Economist, as follows:
1) Copyright democratizes access to creative works (ironically). If all content were free, who would pay to enable access? In yesteryear, only the rich could travel to Paris to see the Mona Lisa. In today's digital age, copyright enables access by the multitudes by enabling the cost of access to be divided to the fullest extent amongst the broadest potential audience, which minimizes the price per view. With copyright, each rightsholder can decide whether to minimize price by dividing the cost of access by many viewers (as a library or museum does) or to profit adequately to enable creating new works (as a photographer, artist or movie studio does). Whether printing a newspaper or providing digitization and bandwidth for a website, access has a cost that must be paid by someone. Monetizing copyright actually broadens access. (I note that the role of search engines is primarily to organize that which is already accessible.)
2) Laws tend to protect the weaker party. Rightly so. "Copyright upon creation" is necessary to protect the creative works of the many and of the one. How else would society protect the drawings of a child, personal photos posted to a blog, or the music of a garage band? Absent the protection of copyright, the intellectual, cultural and financial wealth of generations - individually and collectively - could be forfeit in the interest of expediency.
And, 3) Contrary to Professor Fisher's original assumptions, the technology and business model already exist today for a comprehensive national and global registry that could ascertain the owners of copyrighted works at any website in any language. The awareness of and the education and will to use this system have not yet caught up to the technological capability.