What anti-copyright-advocates like to do is bring up that clause from the Constitution, plus the term of the Copyright Act of 1790, which was for a term of 14 years and a renewal term of another 14 years, if the author was still alive at the end of the first term. They then argue that 14 years should be enough today.
Renewal requirements were eventually abolished in the 20th century. They are what created many of those so-called orphan works (in the sense of, “is it still under copyright”). The US Copyright Office still has all the physical renewal records, they have put many records online, and I think they are aiming to put them all online. Maybe they’ve even achieved it by now. I haven’t checked recently. The physical records have always been available in the Copyright Office, and there are services in Washington DC who do searches of the physical records for publishers. But Google and similar entities don’t want to bother looking up these records.
One reason renewal requirements were abolished, is that the US Copyright Office was overwhelmed with submissions. It’s far worse today. Even though they are trying for electronic efficiency, in my experience it takes anywhere from 9 months to 18 months after submitting a book, to get a certificate of registration from them. The registration coverage does extend from the date they received the submission, not when they finally got around to processing it. But you can imagine how much worse it would be if the Copyright Office had to process renewals in addition.
Also, authors of articles, essays, short stories, poetry, and other short works included in books and magazines, have traditionally relied on the copyright coverage provided by their publishers registering the collective work. As far as I can tell, Google is now claiming such registrations do not provide valid legal coverage and all those authors should have registered the works separately (years ago!), which few of them did. (Almost everybody else respected collective registrations before.) This is very important, not only in the light of the book-scanning project but Google’s more recent magazine-scanning project.
But supposing such registrations are legally declared lost and everyone is forced to register all their short works separately from now on to maintain any control over them: Full employment for the Copyright Office. Oops, I meant the “Book Registry” that’s supposed to benefit us all so. I suppose we’d all have to register our websites and blogs too, which would be really interesting considering that some people change theirs daily.
As for “human rights,” US authors, artists, composers, and so on care about their creations just as much as non-US creators of works. Furthermore, most have political and moral beliefs regarding how their own work should be used. I would find it very offensive if certain kinds of advertisements were placed next to my work. I can control that by selling articles only to magazines that do not carry such advertisements, to book publishers (who tend to advertise only their other books, if anything, within a book), and by publishing my own books. I would also find it offensive if Google declared portions of my books “inserts,” as the Settlement gives them the power to do, and freely combined them with works by other authors that I do not want to be associated with.
But, as far as I know, US copyright law gives creators of works no basis for “moral rights.” In the current climate, if creators of works say, “I created that, therefore I should control its use,” they are usually told they are being selfish and the “public good” is far more important. On the other hand, if they argue that not controlling the work deprives them of the right to follow the “American work ethic” and earn an honest living just like the rest of “the public,” they have a legal and cultural basis for defending their work.
I sometimes think individual Americans are blamed for the failures of their legal and political systems, even ones those individual Americans protested and voted against. It’s bad enough to get shafted by your own government or large US corporations, and it’s even worse to then be blamed for those entities also shafting people who live in other countries. This is an international issue: We authors all need to stand together.
And we should be reaching out for alliances with visual artists, because they also have much material published in books and magazines. Even though the Settlement does not currently cover most of it (as far as I can tell), Google will reach out to seize their rights next. Google will hardly want to publish millions of illustrated books without any of the illustrations.