Copyrights and layers of creativity

John Naughton wrote one of the best introductions to the internet, a kind of hymn to the web: A Brief History of the Future. He blogs regularly, and elegantly, and is also a sage columnist for The Observer (which hides out on the Guardian Unlimited service, since the Guardian does not publish on Sunday). His piece today is excellent. Sir Arthur Sullivan, Tom Lehrer and now a new work by Mike Stanfill. The chances are that you have heard the Lehrer Elements song, it ends

These are the only ones of which news has come to Harvard,
And there may be many others but they have not been discovard.

But you will get a new take on the song from Mike Stanfill’s Flash implementation which is a great commentary upon, and new kind of performance of the recording. I can not believe that the Lehrer estate is going to sue Mike Stanfill, as one very much hopes that the Sullivan estate did not try to extract royalties from Tom Lehrer; but such marvellous examples of layered copyrightable, creativity, need to be encouraged not prevented by the regulatory framework. Did any lawyer think to question the cubists for using labels of wine and absinthe bottles in their collages (not only copyright but trade-mark protected)?

Digital technologies facilitate collages, parodies, commentaries, mash-ups and emulations that are not simple knock-offs. Media convergence creates the new possibility of copyright convergence. So copyright should be loose enough to accommodate invention. It will have to be. Another Lehrer song reinforces the point: genius may be close to plagiarism.