Lawrence Lessig, speaking about the scorched-earth inefficiencies of modern copyright in Free Culture:
The list could go on, but the obvious point is this: Physical property and the intangible property we call copyright are different. Jefferson pointed to one difference. But the really crucial difference that I’ve been trying to get people to see is that physical property systems have a host of techniques to assure that the property system is efficient. Copyright does not. Copyright is the least efficient property system constructed by government — which is saying a lot. And rather than continue sophomoric debates about who is “stealing” what, it’s about time that policymakers — and industry leaders — took responsibility for the inefficiency that copyright is.
I’ve been a fan of Lessig for quite some time, and I’ve usually agreed with him in principle, but some recent issues with image rights on Citizendium has really driven home this point. There’s an incredible amount of intellectual wealth rotting away, lonely and desolate because its copyright status can’t be confirmed or its owner can’t be found, or because the copyright system is just too thorny for people and organizations to navigate. Really great, cool things aren’t happening not because of any economic reason but solely because our copyright system sucks.
One of the most recent copyright issues to come up on Citizendium is of museums and stock image companies trying to re-copyright old public domain images in various ways–some argue that they own the copyright on their ‘artfully’ scanned images of public domain works; others try to lock down reuse via contracts; still others embed their own copyrighted watermarks in their scans of public domain works. Any readers have pointers on what the current legal precedents on these issues are?