U.S. Copyright Office: photos taken by animals, plants or supernatural beings are in public domain


#1

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#2

oh great, now all my ghost van Gogh’s paintings are worthless!


#3

I loved his work-for-hire argument.

Did the monkey sign a work-for-hire contract? No? Then it’s not work-for-hire.


#4

I’ll be interested to see what they decide constitutes ‘human authorship’ once the authorship occurs through increasingly complex machines.

If I, say, break out my l33t [spirograph][1] skillz it is likely that my work (while worthless) will be of ‘human authorship’. The same would probably be true if I populated a Conway’s Game of Life board with a specific starting state of my choosing and then ran it for N iterations. Not interesting; but my not interesting.

But what about an antenna design produced with genetic algorithms(these are actually a thing; and boy are they weird looking)? I clearly authored the algorithms; but did I author the antenna’s shape(the choice of antenna might be bad because it might be viewed as ‘purely functional’; but let’s pretend that I was evolving something for aesthetic purposes instead)?

How about an expert system or neural network? The system itself is obviously mine; but are its results when applied to a dataset? At some point I presumably am the author of a strong AI; but not anything it comes up with; but it’s far from obvious where that point is.
[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirograph


#5

What if I nod off and accidentally snap a pic as I do that little jerk as I wake up again.


#6

what about a corporation copyrighting something?


#7

I wonder if that includes scriptures, which are usually attributed to supernatural beings? The majority have been public domain for centuries, but there’s always another L. Ron Hubbard coming along.


#8

I will get another unsolicited, but not unwelcome, sext.


#9

Duh, of course!

But can I claim copyright?


#10

Luckiy Antennas aren’t copyrightable. Whether genetically evolved antennas can be patented is a different question for a different government office to decide. It’s a fun question to think about, though.


#11

Indeed, antennas were a bad example, since they are functional rather than aesthetic. However, in the absence of a good ‘aesthetic fitness’ metric I couldn’t really think of an analogous genetic algorithm approach to a copyrightable creative work.

You can still use the same basic technique; but you tend to bring a human back into the loop so often(because ‘I know it when I see it’ is your fitness metric) that the question becomes much less interesting. If you had an automated aesthetic metric you could produce a copyrightable analog of the antenna situation, though.


#12

I really don’t understand why people are on the side of the monkey owning that photo. What’s the definition of “taken by a human”? If I set up a camera’s 10 second delay does that mean I don’t own the picture because I didn’t take it, the camera took it? If I setup a camera to take time lapsed pictures and let it take 1 picture every 30 seconds for a day do those photos not belong to me? If I build robots to drive around and take pictures? How about if I strap a camera to my dog but the camera is on auto-shoot? Does this means NBC doesn’t own these videos

A lot of work was put into getting that monkey picture. Thousands of dollars of equipment, Hundreds of dollars or more of travel expenses. The photographer clearly planned and set out to design a setup that would get him pictures like that.

This siding with the monkey basically seems to say if you hand your camera to someone and say “take my picture” they own the picture.


#13

That issue could actually get pretty touchy. Everybody’s holy book(s) have some sort of origin story that links them to holiness in one way or another; but different religions and sub-factions can get very, very, touchy about which texts are directly divinely authored, which ones are prophetically authored by a human under direct divine inspiration, which ones are of human authorship but the work of a prophet or particularly holy figure, which ones are purely human authorship concerning a particularly holy figure.

Then you get into translations, which do absolutely nothing to clarify the matter.

Even better, most factions have a canon that includes several works, of different alleged status, so even groups that agree on the status of one text may differ on another. It all makes for fascinating comparative religion; but I suspect that the copyright office prefers to hand out copyrights for new translations and otherwise not poke the issue.


#14

At least for me, I emphasize the distinction between being ‘on the side of the monkey’ and ‘of the opinion that the law does not cover this photograph’.

In terms of desirable outcome, I think the photographer got screwed. His effort in slogging a bunch of fancy kit to the pestilent edge of nowhere is also the sort of activity that copyrights are supposed to provide an economic incentive for. Guy deserves it about a zillion times more than another few decades of Steamboat Willie. In this case the law fails to provide the incentive that would be desirable and that it was written with the intent of providing; and I’d prefer it if he could get his money for this one.

However, given his (original, before he changed it in response to the copyright fluff) description of how the photograph occurred and my best attempt at interpretation of the relevant US law; I cannot fit him in and cannot endorse any ‘elasticity’ in the application of an already fairly vague and broad law.

(I’m not going to copy-pasta the gory details; but if anyone actually cares about the details of my position they are here in a prior thread on the matter.)

Had he never mentioned the issue, or provided even the thinnest tissue of ‘My experiment to see if monkeys will take pictures’, I would severely distrust an attack along this line; I’m inclined to presume human authorial intention and to place the burden of proving otherwise on the attacker; but in this (unusual) case the photographer explicitly disclaimed authorial intention, and applying the law as I feel it should work out, rather than as it is, is a dodgy business.


#15

Great! Now you can channel any entity you please or steal someone else’s entity…and get paid for it.


#16

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