Shem's idea of a "will to pirate" based upon a fundamentally unfair contract was, I believe, culturally sound. As to the pernicious effects of copyright and its offspring, Shem's central critique was at pains to point up the inherent tension between the public good of the public domain and the rights of copyright holders to recompense. Scanning through his research material I came across the following information which I think he might usefully have included and which I believe gives us both a clue to the public, as in consumer, view of copyright protection and a possible reduction in the inherent tension just mentioned between it and the good of the public domain.
In 1909 - A major revision to the U.S. Copyright Act was completed. More categories of protected works were included and the total possible period of protection was extended to 56 years. With respect to music, Congress declared: "The main object to be desired in expanding copyright protection afforded to music has been to give the composer an adequate return for the value of his composition É"
This I believe, is what the general public wants copyright to do - to stop artists and inventors from starving so that they might continue to create and to ensure that poverty is not a block on people pursuing creative arts. However copyright has been subverted from this purpose in order to serve as a long term financial instrument par excellence for publishers, recording studios, and a panoply of parasites on the body artistic and creative. It is an unspoken recognition of this paradox that lies at the heart of Shem's "will to pirate".
If for one moment we look sideways from copyright into the murky and deceitful world of patent law the conflict between the public good as served by public domain information and the harm caused by perfectly legal withholding of patented information needs no clearer illustration than the inability of 3rd world countries to afford effective AIDS treatments. Clearly in cases such as this there is need for a legal ability to exist to take into the public domain information that would otherwise remain copyrighted or patented for periods of time beyond the lifetimes of those suffering from its withholding. A "copyright" compulsory purchase if you will.
Such a "compulsory purchase" would be immensely difficult to negotiate given that the financial value of a patent or copyright is seemingly limitless, and thereby, I conjecture, lies the solution to our tension between reward and the public domain. My suggestion would be to limit the amount that any individual or organisation could benefit from any single "creative work" or possibly any body of "creative work". Once this limit is reached the item under protection automatically enters the public domain proper. It is my firm belief that such a limit if set correctly could more than adequately reward and sustain the creator while ensuring that the public domain is not deprived, for too long a period, of genuinely valuable creations. Were we for example to set this maximum to a figure expressed say, as ten times the lifetimes earnings of a middle manager in a financial services industry organisation in London or New York then I suspect that most artists and solitary inventors would be encouraged to pursue their creative urges.