Eugene Volokh is spot on in his legal analysis
over who owns the 'copyright' in the video made by the Virginia Tech mass murderer. But that doesn't change the fact that the entire debate has a sick property to it - a sickness that is ultimately born out of our flawed copyright laws.
One ultimately has to conclude that copyright has only one of two purposes in this instance: (1) To maintain an overt tool of political/social censorship, or (2) to maintain tool of abstraction for blood money in the wake of a tragedy.
Is there a third possibility here? If there is, I admit that I fail to see it.
Does the copyright in the Nick Berg beheading video now belong to the Al-Zarqawi estate? Should Abraham Zapruder be able to make the film of the Kennedy assassination disappear forever because he (and he alone) feels that society should not view it?
I certainly don't include Volokh in this category, but I suspect that there are many IP attorneys out there who are so caught up in their profession that they end up embracing the kind of insane social distortions discussed here.
Much of the best science fiction is rooted in current reality, and then projects both its logical evolution and theoretical possibilities into the near future.
If the length of copyright terms are "life of the author plus 70 years", try to imagine the effect on the public domain if the average lifespan of a person becomes at least 120 years.
With that in mind, check out this science fiction short story entitled "Melancholy Elephants" (which was apparently written back in the day when copyright terms were "merely" the life of the author plus 50 years).
Fight the future...