Today, a couple of events coincide in horrible harmony. For me, it all starts off with this tweet from Carl:
@Markfergusonuk God is dead. Marx is dead. Satire is dead. I’m not feeling too good myself…
Open Rights Group and a coalition of campaigning organisations (Greenpeace, Action Aid, Global Poverty Project, Church Action on Poverty, and Campaign Against the Arms Trade) have today written to Baroness Wilcox at the Department for Business, Industry and Skills to highlight how, in the absence of a parody ‘exception’, copyright affects our ability to campaign as effectively as possible.
In the absence of a parody exception, copyright effectively gives copyright holders a veto over activity society should be encouraging – legitimate creative or critical engagement with the cultural works around us. The problems were laid clear last year by the treatment of Greenpeace’s campaign using Volkwagen’s ‘Star Wars’ adverts.
We’ve been running a website about the need for a new exception, with support from the likes of comedian Graham Linehan, B3ta.com and the film maker Alex Cox, because we think a new exception is necessary. You can help by signing our petition or, if you make parodies and are affected by copyright, you can tell the consultation team.
And it was only yesterday that Dave Winer retweeted a baleful plea from someone for us to raise a petition to return to Web 1.0.
Which is why I’m really not sure if it’s actually Web 1.0 we need. A simple standing-still right now in the Web 2.0 we’ve come to love would probably do me fine. I’m not the most demanding of souls.
In reality, I’d rather be inclined to wonder if what was approaching our virtual societies at the speed of a runaway train wasn’t in fact the Web 3.0 everyone once so eagerly predicted but must surely now be fearing.
A world where every kind of comment is open to copyright and trademark battles is not a world I would wish this to become. Nevertheless, it may – one day – serve to define the essence of that Web 3.0.
The very fact that an organisation as dedicated to free speech and digital liberties as ORG sees the need to regulate our right to be funny does seem terribly symptomatic of the lack of real freedoms that we are rapidly accumulating. We are, indeed, I would argue, in danger of returning to the time of the court-jester figure of yore, the political significance of which was as follows:
The Royal Shakespeare Company provides historical context for the role of the fool:
In ancient times courts employed fools and by the Middle Ages the jester was a familiar figure. In Renaissance times, aristocratic households in Britain employed licensed fools or jesters, who sometimes dressed as other servants were dressed, but generally wore a motley (i.e. parti-coloured) coat, hood with ass’s (i.e. donkey) ears or a red-flannel coxcomb and bells. Regarded as pets or mascots, they served not simply to amuse but to criticise their master or mistress and their guests. Queen Elizabeth (reigned 1558-1603) is said to have rebuked one of her fools for being insufficiently severe with her. Excessive behaviour, however, could lead to a fool being whipped, as Lear threatens to whip his fool.
Wikipedia goes on to divide jesters up into two clear types:
One may conceptualize fools in two camps: those of the natural fool type and those of the licensed fool type. Whereas the natural fool was seen as innately nit-witted, moronic, or mad, the licensed fool was given leeway by permission of the court. In other words, both were excused, to some extent, for their behavior, the first because he “couldn’t help it,” and the second by decree.
Distinction was made between fools and clowns, or country bumpkins. The fool’s status was one of privilege within a royal or noble household. His folly could be regarded as the raving of a madman but was often deemed to be divinely inspired. The ‘natural’ fool was touched by God. Much to Gonerill’s annoyance, Lear’s ‘all-licensed’ Fool enjoys a privileged status. His characteristic idiom suggests he is a ‘natural’ fool, not an artificial one, though his perceptiveness and wit show that he is far from being an idiot, however ‘touched’ he might be.
So is this the final destination of humorous electronic communications? To be sanctioned, registered, regulated and allowed by some all-powerful institution of legal remit?
Where is this all leading us? Where will it all end?
And just in case you were wondering, this is no joke.