Thursday 24 September 2015

Return of the Macaque

Animal rights charity PETA has filed a  federal lawsuit in San Francisco seeking to vest copyright in that infamous 'Monkey Selfie' in the crested black macaque who snapped the image with photographer David Slater's unattended camera.  PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - is suing on behalf of the macaque, dubbed Naturo, claiming he is the author of his selfies allowing Peta to administer all proceeds from the photos for the benefit of the monkey, and other crested macaques living in a reserve on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi:  "While the claim of authorship by species other than homo sapiens may be novel, 'authorship; under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., is sufficiently broad so as to permit the protections of the law to extend to any original work, including those created by Naruto," PETA said in the suit.

The The U.S. Copyright Office has already addressed the dispute in the latest draft of its “Compendium Of U.S. Copyright Office Practices”, which was published on August 19th. The previous compendium stated that “Materials produced solely by nature, by plants, or by animals are not copyrightable.” The new 1,222-page report again makes their stance on animal artwork clear by referring specifically to photographs taken monkeys (and other species of course). “[T]he Office will refuse to register a claim if it determines that a human being did not create the work." Jeffrey Kerr, a lawyer with Peta, told the Guardian that the copyright office policy “is only an opinion”, and the US Copyright Act itself does not contain language limiting copyrights to humans.

It waxs hard enough to work out who 'owned' the infamous Ellen DeGeneres Oscar's selfie. But a monkey? 

PETA have used the courts before but not with any great success: In 2011 PETA filed a lawsuit against marine park operator SeaWorld, alleging five wild-captured orca whales were treated like slaves. A San Diego court dismissed the case

At the end of 2014, the appeals court in New York state said that a caged chimpanzee called Tommy could not be recognised as a "legal person" as it "cannot bear any legal duties" although the Nonhuman Rights Project say the state has previously conferred legal "personhood" status on domestic animals who were the beneficiaries of trusts, as well as extending rights to non-human entities such as corporations. Similarly in 2007 an Austrian Supreme Court refused to appoint a woman as legal guardian of a 26 year old chimpanzee called Hiasl as he was not a person, in a case that was referred to the European Court of Human Rights. Interestingly in December 2014, in another case brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project, a court in Argentina allowed a claim for habeas corpus - for orang-utan Sandra - who had been born in captivity and was being held at Buenos Aires Zoo - finding she deserved the basic rights of a non human person, including the right to life, liberty and freedom from harm, and pending appeal should be released to a sanctuary; but does that extend to the right to copyright authorship one must ask?

In this case, Slater licensed the image to the Caters News Agency, and Slater argued that he had "engineered" the shot, and that "it was artistry and idea to leave them to play with the camera and it was all in my eyesight. I knew the monkeys were very likely to do this and I predicted it. I knew there was a chance of a photo being taken" and claimed copyright. The photographs were uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and the website listed the selfie photograph as being in the public domain on the grounds that it was the creation of an animal, and not a person. Slater requested that the Wikimedia Foundation, the owners of Wikimedia Commons, either pay for the photographs or remove them from Wikimedia Commons: His claim was rejected by the organisation, which determined that no one owned copyright as the monkey was the author of the photograph.

The results of the 1709 reader's poll into who owns the 'black macaque image can be found here -  52%  of 1709 readers polled thought that "there is no copyright in works authored by animals: they are a gift to humanity which we can all use" although 30% thought that only humans are authors so the photographer owns the copyright as the nearest relevant human" - and aurelia J Schutlz's 2011 opinion can be found here.

Over on the IPKat, Lucy Harrold examines how the case would proceed under the provisions of the Copyright Designs & Patents Act here in the UK - opining (just as a starter) that as the monkey is neither an individual nor a body corporate so on similar facts in the UK, its case would fall at the first hurdle, before turning to the somewhat complex issues of authorship. well worth a read.

Orang-utan image: "Orangutan-bornean" by Julie Langford - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons -

Return of the Mack by Mark Morrison here

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