Why is it important for works to pass into the public domain?
Lawrence Lessig's latest blog entry (syndicated as lawrencelessig on LiveJournal) is a great discussion of why it is beneficial for works to pass into the public domain. This sort of thing won't happen if Disney has its way and companies can have perpetual copyright. I'm not going to duplicate Lessig's entire blog entry (go read it yourself, it's not lengthy), but he points out that the upcoming movie The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and the comic books it is based on) could not have been made without the use of material that is in the public domain -- namely, all of the main characters in the story. Who is in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Allan Quatermain (from Haggard in 1885), Thomas Sawyer (from Twain in 1876), Dr. Henry Jekyll / Mr. Edward Hyde (from Stevenson in 1886), Captain Nemo (from Verne in 1870), The Invisible Man (from Wells in 1897), Dorian Gray (from Wilde in 1890), Mycroft Holmes (from Doyle in 1892), and Mina Murray Harker (from Stoker in 1897). If theses characters were still under copyright, it would have been impossible to clear permissions and create this extraordinary league. This is what the public domain is all about -- using prior work to create new material.
The Public Domain is a good thing. Please support things like The Eric Eldred Act and sign the petition. Then contact your elected officials and urge them to support initiatives like this.