In Monkey World, Righthaven works!

By Marc J. Randazza

Apparently some monkey grabbed a camera and started snapping self portraits. (source) If you go to the news article, you’ll see that the photos have a copyright notice from “Caters News Agency, LTD.” But, if the monkey is the one who “authored” the work, then how the hell does Caters News Agency claim that they own the work?

Holy crap! I figured out a way that the whole Righthaven scheme can work!

You see, I think that the monkey owns the copyright. The monkey is the one who “authored” the work. 17 U.S.C. § 201. But, I don’t think that non-humans can own copyrights. Monkeys don’t have property. See, e.g., NRS 111.055 (denying animals real property ownership). How would the competency of a monkey to enter into a contract even be determined?

Righthaven’s agreements say that they take the right to sue, but the rest of the rights stay with the copyright owner. See Righthaven’s Strategic Alliance Agreement with Stephens Media LLC. But in this case, the owner is the monkey. Since the rights can’t remain with the Monkey, I think that the rights might automatically actually be owned by Righthaven! I mean, someone has to own them, right? So, if ANY rights are assigned to Righthaven, then since the remaining rights can’t stay with the simian, they go to the bluetooth headset guy!

Its fuckin genius! In Monkey World, Righthaven works!

H/T: Danny Ledone (regarding the monkey story)

UPDATE: Goldman tells me that the prevailing model is that a copyright created by a non-human is owned by the chattel’s owner. Therefore, this entire post is wrong. Even in Monkey World, Righthaven is a losing proposition. Sorry Sherm.

10 Responses to In Monkey World, Righthaven works!

  1. Janet says:

    Since the monkeys were in a national park in Indonesia, that would make the government of Indonesia the owners of the monkeys, and therefore of the copyright.

    • You think? So the owner of the animal that makes art is the owner of the art? I guess that would make sense, since if it was a slave, I presume the slave’s labor belongs to the master. Just like a wage-slave’s work belongs to the boss.

      Yes, I think you are correct.

      But, in that case, why did the guy who owned the camera claim the copyright?

  2. Jeremy Ross says:

    But if the monkey was taking the pictures with a stolen camera (that said simian stole) would the camera, memory card and incidental photos of cute macaque mugs on said card be the property of the camera owner?

    • scotslawstudent says:

      I do wonder what the “stolen” property element does to ownership with monkey self portraits. Animals can’t steal but they are totally using your camera.

  3. vreejack says:

    Yes, an interesting point. While chattel artists have long been known (monkey and elephant painters, for instance) does it matter who owns the photographic equipment when a picture is taken? If I borrow a camera to take a picture, who owns the picture?

    • It doesn’t matter who owns the gear. But, as I understand it from Goldman, it does matter who owns the animal.

      • vreejack says:

        Then the pictures belong to the animal’s owners. Unless relevant national laws say otherwise, of course. Also I would assume that the zoo owners had an interest in protecting their own copyright.

        • yes, you appear to be correct. I must confess that I never considered who owns the intellectual property created by an animal, but if there’s one guy whose opinion I trust on such esoteric issues, it would be Professor Goldman. He says the owner of the animal owns the IP created by the animal. Natch, this occurred in Indonesia, so I haven’t the slightest idea what Indonesian law is — but I presume it would be similar enough that the same rule would hold.

  4. Yhere’s also a valid argument here about the definition of “author” and the nature of authorship.

    Sure, the monkey contributed to the authoring process, but the reason there is any artistic output to argue over is because of human agency: the photographer’s decision to let the monkey keep pressing the button, to review and select the photos afterwards, and to transfer them into a medium where they are usable and distributable.

    Just as an editor can make a case for partial ownership of what they edit (depending on the degree of their contribution) presumably the same must apply here.

    Which is not to deny the Indonesian government’s essential contribution here; I assume their Federal Agency of Chattel Copyright Licensing will be happy to negotiate a deal. I mean, this must happen all the time, right?

  5. [...] Monkeys and copyrights have become a topic of fierce debate, and are at the leading edge of the great ongoing war between apes and humanity. [...]

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