I came across this nice article by Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing wherein he makes some interesting points on how current copyright laws have censored the majority of books.
the legal changes introduced in the years after Fahrenheit 451 did more than just extend terms. Congress eliminated the benign practice of the renewal requirement (which had guaranteed that 85% of works and 93% of books entered the public domain after 28 years because the authors and publishers simply didn’t want or need a second copyright term.) And copyright, which had been an opt-in system (you had to comply with some very minor formalities to get a copyright) became an opt out system (you got a copyright automatically when you “fixed” the work in material form, whether you wanted it or not.) Suddenly the entire world of informal and non commercial culture — from home movies that provide a wonderful lens into the private life of an era, to essays, posters, locally produced teaching materials — was swept into copyright. And kept there for the life of the author plus 70 years. The effects were culturally catastrophic.
This issue brings to mind the hardest part, for me, of working in publishing—seeing how many books are destroyed and being powerless to stop it. You would think that out-of-print books are worth more, since the moment it is declared out of print it is limited edition, i.e. those that exist now may be the only copies left in the world. The book industry in the only one where retailers are allowed to return the product if it doesn’t sell. But if they hold onto the book after it is out of print, the publisher will refuse the returns. Thus as soon as a book has been declared out-of-print book sellers nationwide box up every last company and return them to the publisher, who, having nowhere to sell them, has them demolished.
Naturally, you are wondering why they don’t just donante the books to libraries or other book-hungry institutions. The problem is again returns: they assume that a certain percentage of these would find their way back to the bookstores, who will return it for full price. On each of these books the publisher, author and distributor are then paying the bookstore for the book and making zero profit—a risk they’re not willing to take.
So every time a book goes out of print, it is also removed from the shelves and incinerated. Yay, capitalism!