$1 Copyright Proposal

Lawrence Lessig has proposed that someone propose a statute to charge copyright holders $1 per year beyond the first 50 years to maintain their copyright. This would mitigate some of the loss of public domain works to the copyright term extension act, which gives works protection for the author’s life plus 70 years.
Lessig estimates that 98% of works would enter the public domain after just 50 years, while the remaining 2% (works that still have commercial value after 50 years) can still be protected to Congress’s/Lobbyist’s liking.
I think this is a good idea. Under the current system, there are masses of works that are not in the public domain, but that have little or no commercial value. Disney and related media companies are effectively holding these works hostage by lobbying for increased protection over a few of their own works. The transaction costs of getting rights to these works (finding the copyright owner, seeking a license, getting a response) create an insurmountable obstacle to their use. Since these works have little commercial value, they warrant very little transaction costs. The imbalance keeps them out of the public domain, but leave them unused for commercial purposes (a/k/a worthless).
The $1 idea not only shifts the notification costs back to those who seek protection, but it also (and much more importantly) eliminates the transaction costs required to obtain a license to non-commercially-valuable works. This is extremely important for works that have social value (educational, artistic, and informational).
Lessig’s example of this need is also interesting. He points to a new project to digitize the Stanford University library. A project that could violate a lot of protected copyrights under current law. This digitization of information is important in improving access and usability of information, and as David Galbraith noted a while back, it cleans out one’s file drawers too (why tangitize intangibles?).