The concept of copyright is based on the notion that creators of an original work are entitled to equitable compensation for their production, and consumers are entitled to an authentic version of that good. But in the complicated climate of literary copyrights, traditional intellectual property protection may actually be suppressing the long-term availability and consumption of writers' works.
In a recent examination of the current copyright framework, University of Illinois College of Law professor Paul Heald identified a consistent trend of what he refers to as disappearing works. Books covered by an independent publisher's copyright are typically phased out of distribution fairly quickly after production profits initially decline, according to CNN, often leading to the eventual disappearance of the work from the marketplace. Conversely, books that find their way into the public domain can be published and marketed by anyone - and often boast a much longer shelf life as a result.
Perhaps the most telling statistic derived from Heald's report was that there are approximately three times as many books initially published in the 1850s available on Amazon.com as new works produced in the 1950s. With copyright protection now lasting 70 years beyond the life of the author, many smaller works are phased out of the marketplace (and consumer consciousness) long before they can be revived in the public domain.
As the literary market turns decidedly digital in the age of Apple iPads and Amazon Kindles, these distribution models could even affect the original integrity of the work itself. According to Wired, electronic content management more easily allows for works to be permanently edited or altered at the request of the writer, publisher or outraged readers after initial production.