John Naughton’s always enjoyable Sunday column in the Observer deals with copyright and parody this week. More specifically, he writes about the Flash animation of Tom Lehrer’s Elements Song (go watch it), which he’d blogged about earlier this week. I am a fan of Lehrer – I spent quite a lot of money on the comprehensive “The Remains of Tom Lehrer” boxset some time ago – but I hadn’t seen the animation, and thus seized on it and sent it on to many others..

Anyway, back to today’s story. Naughton’s article, (The very model of a modern creative society? I don’t think so (blog reference) takes the song and animation as the starting point for a quick gallop through the background to the song and finishing up with a discussion on present-day creative culture. See, Lehrer’s song took the tune from I Am The Very Model of A Modern Major-General (Gilbert and Sullivan, Pirates of Penzance). And of course, the clever Flash programmer/designer took the whole thing and added pretty pictures. Copyright lawyers’ ears start to prick up at this point, of course. Naughton (rightly) criticises the extention upon extension of copyright terms, and argues that this ultimately stifles creativity. (Lessig promises a presentation arguing that “Congress should carve a robust exemption to the law for non-commercial remix. Commercial use of such remixes should be regulated by a baseline statutory license.” Looking forward to seeing that).

It’s hard to stand on the shoulders of giants if you have to get the giant’s agent’s publisher’s lawyer(s) to sign for it in triplicate first. So this is a timely reminder. And in that spirit…

  • Other attempts at adding graphics to the Elements Song: 1, 2, 3, 4, not to mention performances at talent shows (1, 2), a performance in Dutch and a weird, slow anime version.
  • A directory of (mostly text) parodies of the Major General
  • A great animation of the original (created by a student for a Flash class – an example of what I called the second side of GooTube last week (here)
  • “I’ve written a self-referential Major-Gen’ral parody” *yes, it’s a parody of parodies*
  • Ill-fated TV show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (last mentioned here) gave it a go to, with “The Very Model Of A Modern Network TV Show” (lyrics). Amusingly there’s no GooTube version of it other than this, which is the original audio set to a series of clips from (of all things) Battlestar Galactica. Not convinced about the clips but the song is great.

Finally, on reading Naughton’s column over coffee this morning (from Co-op, incidentally, bought the last time I came through Holyhead; why can’t they sell their stuff here instead of Tesco?), I immediately thought of Lobachevsky (studio version | live version), Lehrer’s ditty on plagiarism. (Tagging Eoin so he can come and tell his Lobachevsky story). And Naughton updated his post accordingly. Great minds, etc.