I threw a link up in reader from Corrente, but I wanted to link to the original post so that I can give you the rundown on copyright. Go read the original, then come back.
First things first:
There is no such thing as original thought.
What, you're saying. That's a load of whooey. Of course there is original thought. How would we have scientific breakthroughs or beautiful art if it weren't for original thinkers?
No person comes from nowhere. We are not found fully grown with all our thoughts and ideas developed after a childhood spent under a rock. We are social creatures. We are learning creatures. We require information from other humans from the second we enter the world, and before that we require more than just information. No one thinks in a bubble, safe from the influences of the world. Actually, feral children are less able to think and communicate ideas, that is how important other people are to our existence as humans.
We build on the ideas and solutions of others. We may take an idea a step further than it's been taken in the past, or discard it entirely, but that is always because information has come from somewhere outside ourselves and we have managed to piece together a new way of seeing things.
Lemme give you an example, Einstein would never have been able to come up with E=MC2 if it hadn't been for Emilie du Chatelet, Volatire's girlfriend and the person who proved how to measure work 200 years before Einstein started having thought experiments. Einstein is thought of, by the general population, as one of the most original thinkers in history, but he couldn't be that if it weren't for the thinking of other people before him.
So no thought comes from nowhere. Ever.
That said, we still want credit for our ideas. But credit is different than ownership.
When I was in college I had a poly sci proff who was really good at lecturing on the basics, idealism, realism blah blah blah. But he didn't really have a solid grasp of some other philosophies, namely progressive ideas. So when I heard him using my exact wording, my exact framing, my exact phrasing while giving a lecture on structuralism, I knew he got his knowledge from one of my papers.
There were several suggestions given to me by other people:
1) Complain to his boss
2) Ask him for a TA job if he was going to use me to teach anyways
Neither of these sat well with me. I was comfortable with him, and didn't have a problem taking credit. But the ideas in my paper weren't mine to begin with, they were just explanations, definitions of something that already existed. He wasn't making a profit off my ideas and he obviously learned something about a theory he didn't know much about.
In the end I got him to write me a damn fine letter of recommendation instead. It includes the phrase "most promising student I have ever had the honor to teach". That worked for me. I just wanted credit for giving him a view he hadn't had before.
Now think about those comedians. They are using the same kind of informal system to get credit for their work.
Copyright law negates that. It removes the ability to further an idea because it becomes to costly to work with ownership of the original idea. So instead of giving non-monetary credit to past idea holders by 1) acknowledging it and 2) using their past work to build on, you have to come up with a completely different idea (based not on anything original, but on things that aren't copyright protected).
Here's an example of how not having copyrights actually expands business and creativity- fashion! (Weeeeeeeeee)
You can't copyright a piece of clothing. If you could, there would be only one maker of jackets in this country. Or purses. Or shoes. All jeans would be Levis.
Since you can't copyright it, fashion can fill damn near every niche, from price to style (though they are still scared of making clothes for the fatties- I blame that on the severe malnutrition they must be suffering from). You can buy a $5 tshirt, or a $100 tshirt. You can get jeans for $18 at Walmart, or special raw denim designer jeans for $200.
But there is a stigma to straight up copying another designer. You ain't gonna get your knock off bags featured in Vogue. It's a trade off. Do you want to try for elite status and very likely fail. Lots of designers do. Or do you want to make something more likely to sell but at a much reduced price? Lots of designers do that too.
Fashion is the giant industry that it is not because everyone wears clothes, but because there are few restraints on the creative side of the process. You want cheaper drugs, greener products, better music on the radio- remove the constraints on the creative side (i/e copyright) but keep or improve restraints on the safety and or labor side (no sweatshops, fair wages, must not kill people using it or working with it).
Free marketeers will be crying when reading that passage. But but but.... You can see their bottom lips go into the pouty thing. It's funny that people who want absolutely no safety or labor restraints want to restrain people from improving on ideas. They want to compete for the worst possible positions, but get nauseous thinking that someone might outthink them.
Copyright stifles progress. It limits expansion. It keeps us stuck. There are ways of crediting past ideas without stifling future ones, and they have nothing to do with the current law. But those ways would severely undermine those who already have power. Remember, with very few exceptions (coughMetalicacough) it is the record companies and not the musicians who throw fits over file sharing. That ought to tell you something about who copyright laws actually benefit.