Why extend the copyright on works that no longer have commercial value? A good case would be genealogy books written in the 1940s and '50s. Today these books have almost no commercial value to the authors or to their heirs; yet, the books provide valuable information to today's genealogists. However, copyright laws keep these books locked up.
For some books, only a few copies or perhaps even a single copy exists in any libraries. Chances are, there is not a single copy of a book you seek anywhere near you. Such books could easily be digitized and placed on the web. However, under current laws, that would be illegal without obtaining the author's permission. Locating the authors or their heirs after 40 years or more is so difficult that most never get contacted. As a result, the information in these books cannot be legally copied, nor can the book be photoduplicated because of arcane U.S. copyright laws. These books are rendered dead, and dead books benefit no one.
The last extension to U.S. copyright laws in the United States occurred in 1998 with the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. This was the 11th extension in 40 years to U.S. copyrights for existing works, delaying any copyrighted work from entering the public domain for another 20 years. These laws supposedly were designed to "protect the rights of copyright holders." However, in practice, the present laws benefit no genealogy authors, but instead they restrict access so that millions of genealogists do not have easy or inexpensive access to the information. It is interesting to compare U.S. laws to those in Europe that are much more relaxed and yet work well.
Legal expert Lawrence Lessig has written a compelling article about this in Wired magazine. He never mentions the word "genealogy," and yet his words apply to that topic as well as to thousands of others. You can read Lessig's article on Wired's web site.