The September/October issue of Foreign Policy includes a letter by Lawrence Lessig (Stanford Law) on the gradual, not-so-subtle destruction of the concept of "public domain" rights.
The rationale for the private domain has always been that it creates incentives to create and produce. When those protections were attached to individuals, there was a natural transition point between private interest and fair public use. But as these became attached to corporations (treated as individuals under American law), the concept of obsolescence has no such simple boundary.
According to Prof Lessig, we now risk the possibility that the means of sustaining and vitalizing our culture will rest almost solely in commercial hands. A sobering thought, indeed.