Thanks to all contributors to this thread, especially OkieMockBird, who shines a bright light on the notion of legal fictions. I'm happy that so many folk think that the copyright laws in the US and elsewhere) need amending - but I'm sad that no-one (let me not "swear" to no-one: I've read the whole thread but I might have missed a key phrase), no-one, I say, has argued for an end to the notion of "intellectual property". The words are a classic oxymoron (like "military justice"). Property, as Okie said early in the thread, is not God-given (insert any God you like). It's a notion created by people, people who "own" things. My toothbrush remains my toothbrush all the while I have possession, and if you wrest it out of my hand, fairly or fouly, it's now your toothbrush. But what if I borrowed your toothbrush, made an exact copy of it, and gave it back? What has happened to the "property" in it? (I'm going to ignore the original maker of "my toothbrush"). When you copy my toothbrush, you make it more difficult for me to sell my toothbrush because the supply has increased. You've brought the "price" of toothbrushes down, and thus you've impoverished me to the extent that the price has come down. This is a property right. If I own a scarce resource (gas for cars, a first folio of Shakespeare) and you copy it, regardless of who the original maker is ("God" for the first, and Shakespeare for the second), you've taken away my "right" to make the extra buck because what I own is scarce.
I want to argue that we cannot continue to run the world this way. Two toothbrushes are in this instance better than one toothbrush: the public right should outweigh the private right. When I speak, or write, or sing, or make songs, I release my little creations, for bad or good, on the evening tide, and they are carried off over the sea. They don't belong to me any more. They don't belong to anyone. Anyone can do what they will with them: that's my contribution to the world. Ownership, particularly of things that can be replicated for nothing, is a tarbaby: once you allow people to own a little bit (a copyright rule for 1 year, 10 years, 100 years, 1,000 years) you've yielded the principle, as I believe Pete Seeger has done, through his own copyrighting of folk material.
I respect all contributors to this debate, and all of their points of view.