Monday, August 25, 2014

Update: "Monkeys, ghosts and gods 'cannot own copyright' says US"

From The Telegraph, 8/21/14:

In the wake of controversy over Wikipedia’s free and worldwide distribution of a monkey ‘selfie’ against the wishes of the man who claims to own copyright, the US has issued new guidance that says monkeys, ghosts and gods are all banned from possessing image rights.

The US Copyright Office has published a draft update to its rules regarding ownership of creative works like photographs, text and art – the first changes in more than two decades – which explicitly state that it will only recognise pieces produced by a human.

Among the 1,222 pages of updated rules and regulations are explicit bans on works produced by “nature, animals, or plants” or “purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings”.

In a list of examples of prohibited applications is “a photograph taken by a monkey” - an apparent nod to the recent Wikipedia case.

Wikimedia, the US-based organisation behind Wikipedia, has refused a photographer’s repeated requests to remove one of his images which it uses online without his permission, claiming that because a monkey pressed the shutter button there is no copyright on it.

The group has included the image in its database of royalty free images, which it offers for use worldwide, but the photographer claims it is his to sell and licence.

British nature photographer David Slater was in Indonesia in 2011 attempting to get the perfect image of a crested black macaque when one of the animals came up to investigate his equipment, hijacked a camera and took hundreds of selfies.

Slater has since complained that Wikimedia’s distribution of the image is affecting his ability to make a living from his work. He incurred costs of several thousands of pounds to arrange the photo shoot, which required the use of his own expensive equipment.

Also prohibited under the new US copyright rules would be “a mural painted by an elephant” or “a claim based on the appearance of actual animal skin”.

Despite the bans on works created by gods and ghosts, the Office may register a work where the application states that the work was “inspired by a divine spirit”, it says.

The update will “set the stage for a number of long-term improvements in the area of registration” of copyright, claims the Office. It is described as a “comprehensive overhaul that makes the practices and standards of the Office more timely and transparent”.

The draft will remain on review until it takes official effect some time around December 15 this year. The practices within it are not law, but do inform future legislation and set out how the Office makes internal decisions.

In the UK, under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, a photographer can claim rights over an image even if he or she did not press the shutter button if the results are their “intellectual creation” – for example, they came up with the concept of a monkey taking a “selfie”.

However, such a case has never been tried in court and the outcome would be uncertain.


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