To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.(wikipedia)
It is interesting that it is more important that Disney is able to maintain their copyright on “Lady and the Tramp” than it is for a drug company to recoup their research and development costs for life saving drugs. Copyright law, as it is written today, protects books, movies and music for life + 70 years for the original writer – 95 years for a work for hire. This means that a book that might have cost a few thousand dollars to get published, such as Moby and Ahab on a Plutonium Sea, will continue to be be covered under copyright long after anyone cares about it. Copyright and patent law were intended to give writers, artists and inventors the incentive to publish their ideas and works so they could benefit from publishing the works. The idea was never to give artists perpetual income, but to encourage the creation of new ideas and works, to allow others to build upon what came before. And, I believe, by limiting the income potential the same artists would be encouraged to continue creating. Instead, by extending copyright law for 70 years beyond death, JK Rowling’s (unborn) grandkids might end up being spoiled brats who never work a day in their life. How is that promoting the useful arts?
Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain has a more in depth article on these locked up copy protected works.