This CNET interview with Larry Lessig provides a great overview of the current struggle to reclaim the public domain. That this cause has such an articulate and reasonable advocate, instead of just yahoos on Slashdot, is a wonderful thing. I think this sums it up:
Tell me why this is an Internet problem. Why should the tech industry care about this, particularly?
…. Before the Internet, long copyright terms sometimes didn’t matter. What were you going to do with a book that was out of print before the Internet? … Now that we have the Internet, we can imagine taking an extraordinary amount of knowledge and culture and making it available on the Internet so that it can be provided for free to schools, to libraries, to other creators. This is a possibility that didn’t exist when Congress originally abolished the requirement that you had to renew your copyright, in 1976. …
The Internet has now made the public domain a million times more valuable. … And we want Congress to reconsider what they’ve done in light of the potential that the Internet creates.
Oh, and if you haven’t yet signed the petition, please do so!