Monday, 14 September 2009

Animals as performers and composers: time for a new Treaty?

Love it or loathe it, you are bound to form a strong opinion of "The sounds of a cat on bass purr, a loon on lead vocal, two owls, wood stork and cuckoo (solo) are the sole musical instruments in this furry arrangement of the classic, Fur Elise, composed by Ludwig van Beethoven" [hat-tip to Howard Knopf, for the lead]. This is another example of the genre of musical works performed (if that be the word) by animals whose innocence extends beyond a lack of familiarity with copyright to a complete failure to deploy the umlaut.

"Jingle Bells" sung by dogs (a current version is available on YouTube here) has been around since the mid-50s, when it was recorded, with "Pat-a-Cake" on the flip side on a stiff old, satisfyingly breakable '78' by Carl Weismann and his Singing Dogs (this too was on YouTube but, I have ascertained, "This video has been removed due to terms of use violation", presumably copyright infringement by the dogs). Other classics such as "Oh! Suzanna", depicted above, once heard, are guaranteed to linger forever in the listener's memory.

Anyway, this left me thinking about the role played by animals in copyright. They don't generally feature in the world of original literary works (the output of monkeys chained to typewriters was always measured in terms of their typing the public-domain works of Shakespeare rather than works of modern authors, or indeed their own works), though works of art painted by primates, or by ducks with feet dipped in paint and then directed across a canvas, have been keenly debated from time to time.

So we must ask: in this age of animal rights, has the time come for WIPO to set up a Working Party to investigate whether the time is right to create a Standing Committee with a view to advising Council as to the desirability of proposing an instrument, the WIPO Animal Copyright and Performance Treaty, to stimulate investment and protect creativity in the relevant sector?


Mathias Klang said...

One of the most famous animal artists is (was) Koko the gorilla

The interesting thing is that the owners tend to hang a copyright symbol on the work which makes for a very interesting discussion.

Guy said...

The present UK copyright statute takes into account computer generated items in a manner which overcomes the difficulty in determining the point of death for a computer. An amending statute should be enacted estblishing the ownership rights to animal generated items.

Catherine Seville said...

There are historical precedents (of a sort) from the nineteenth
century. A Cincinnati man wished to copyright a performance on a table by a dog, but was defeated by the need to send three copies of the work to the Copyright Office in Washington. 'I might send three tables on, but you see I have only one dog. The little fellar acts the cutest you ever seed, and there's money in it for me if I can only get a copyright on it so other folks can't learn their dogs to do the same tricks.'

'Wanted to Copyright a Dog', New York Times, 24 January 1875, p.2.

Howard Knopf said...

Can't wait to hear Debussy's "Claire de Loon."

Paul Edward Geller said...

We're talking about literary and/or artistic works. If the creative creature has no linguistic gifts, then it can create no literary works. Of course, there's the nice question of whether computers can create linguistically. The problem arises more dramatically in moving toward the artistic side of the spectrum. See . Paul