I’m currently reading Free Culture, by Lawrence Lessig (You can get it for free, as in beer, as a PDF and read it on the train, like I’m doing). I’m not through it, so forgive me if I’m just repeating what is said later in the book.
He talks a lot about not only the issue of copyright, but also of works disappearing because the only copy of them is the copy stored in the publisher’s archival system. When the publishing company goes broke (which it most likely will, eventually), those copies disappear. The problem isn’t particularly big for books and such, newspapers are often already archived, but it is a big problem for ephemeral media like TV and web sites. Nobody is allowed to make a copy (at least, that’s how the US law works, it’s a little different here in Norway) at all.
I don’t think removing copyright altogether is a good idea at all, but in this case, we need to limit copyright in the interest of making works available to the public at large.
My idea, which erupted in my head just a few minutes ago and might therefore not be fully evolved is to only allow works to be copyrighted if they are being distributed. If you make a television show and don’t make it available on DVD or VHS or the Internet afterwards (probably within some predefined time limit), distributing copies is allowed, basically making you lose your copyright. If you at first allow people to download the show off the Internet for free but later decide to release a DVD set, the people who have already downloaded a copy off your site retains all the rights to that, but they will not necessarily have the rights to redistribute. So, as long as you publish the works in some way, you retain copyright. If you fail to do that, well, then your work is in the public domain. (As it will be by today’s laws about 70 years after your death, assuming the US Senate stops passing copyright extension laws at some point.)
This will make available a huge amount of works to draw from when making new works, and it will make it fairly easy for a publisher to retain rights for as long as she actually cares about the work. Stop caring and lose your rights, which in turn will hopefully stop people and companies hoarding copyrighted works just for the hoarding.