Monkeys, Selfies, and Copyrights, Part 4

Yes, it’s still a thing.  Ars Technica reports that, as the latest twist in an ongoing legal drama, a federal judge in San Francisco has rejected the argument that a monkey can own a copyright under current U.S. law.  In a hearing this week, U.S. District Judge William Orrick stated that the question of whether non-human animals can own copyrights “is an issue for Congress and the president,” adding that “[i]f they think animals should have the right of copyright they’re free, I think, under the Constitution, to do that.”  Calling the primate plaintiff’s argument a “stretch,” the judge indicated that he intended to dismiss the case in an upcoming order.  The judge’s decision is a setback for the monkey’s human representatives, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (“PETA”), who brought the suit on the monkey’s behalf and intended that any proceeds from the suit would be used to help preserve the endangered monkey’s Indonesian habitat.

For those who have not been following this gripping saga as closely as you should have been (see earlier posts on this subject here, here, and here), the tale began in 2011 when a macaque monkey on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi snapped a series of selfies with a camera that had been set up by British wildlife photographer David Slater.  Slater then filed for U.S. copyright protection for the images, which had quickly gone viral on the Internet.  The U.S. Copyright Office refused registration on the basis that copyright protection requires human authorship of the work(s), and in 2014 amended its published guidelines to specifically state that “[a] photograph taken by a monkey” is non-registrable.  The subsequent PETA lawsuit against Slater, filed in September 2015, is based on the argument that the law does not specifically state that copyrights may only be owned by humans, and therefore does not preclude animal ownership.  Judge Orrick’s rejection of this argument is a blow not only to PETA and its monkey plaintiff, but also to the noble cause of animal intellectual property rights in general.  The decision will likely send shockwaves though the animal community, and will no doubt stifle animal creativity and reduce the already meager economic incentives that animals have to create, sell, license, publicly perform, and otherwise exploit original works of authorship.  Apparently, for animals, the law of the jungle prevails.  Read the article here.  From Ars Technica.

By Self-portrait by the depicted Macaca nigra female. See  article . [Public domain], via  Wikimedia Commons .

By Self-portrait by the depicted Macaca nigra female. See article. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Justin Timberlake’s “Lawsuit & Tie”

The New York Daily News reports that singer Justin Timberlake’s record label, Universal Music Group (“UMG”), is being sued by two members of the 1970s R&B group Sly, Slick & Wicked for allegedly using vocal samples from their song “Sho ‘Nuff” in Timberlake’s 2013 hit “Suit & Tie” without permission.  “[A]ccording to court documents obtained by the Daily News,” the plaintiffs claim that UMG paid for permission to sample the music from “Sho ‘Nuff,” but was never authorized to use samples of the vocals.  The article does not reveal the specific relief requested in the lawsuit, or the amount of damages or royalties sought, but notes that the Grammy-winning “Suit & Tie” was “an enormous hit, selling more than 3 million copies while garnering nearly 100 million clicks on YouTube since its release in 2013.”  Neither UMG nor Timberlake appear to have yet made any public statements regarding the suit.  Read the article here, and compare "Suit & Tie" and "Sho 'Nuff" here and here.   From the New York Daily News.

By karina3094 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via  Wikimedia Commons .

By karina3094 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

What Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2016?

What Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2016?  Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain helpfully answers this question in the 2016 version of its annual report on the subject.  January 1st of each year, known by normal human beings as New Year’s Day, is also known by copyright nerds as Public Domain Day, the day that creative works with expiring copyrights enter the public domain and can be freely used without permission.  In an alternate universe where U.S. copyright protection had not been extended by Congress from its original 28-year term to the current term of the author’s life plus 70 years, many creative works of enormous cultural and historical significance would be entering the public domain today.

Books and plays such as Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, E.R. Braithwaite’s To Sir, With Love, William Burroughs’s The Naked Lunch, Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate, Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day, Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style would be freely available to students and teachers.  Films and television shows like Ben-Hur, North by Northwest, Sleeping Beauty, Some Like It Hot, Suddenly Last Summer, Anatomy of a Murder, The Diary of Anne Frank, Rio Bravo, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Twilight Zone, Rawhide, and Rocky and Bullwinkle could be shown, copied, archived, and edited into new works.  Musical works such as Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, Leiber & Stoller’s Love Potion No. 9, and Ray Charles’s What’d I Say could be performed, transcribed, adapted, reimagined, and freely enjoyed without a license.  In the real world of U.S. copyright law, however, neither these nor any other copyrighted works will be entering the public domain this year, or next year, or the year after that.  Under current law, no copyrighted works are slated to enter the public domain until 2019, and none of the titles named above will enter the public domain in the U.S. until 2055.  Regardless of one’s views on the wisdom or propriety of our seemingly ever-lengthening copyright terms, the advocates and curators of our creative commons seem to have little to celebrate this Public Domain Day.

Image courtesy of Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain ( http://web.law.duke.edu/images/cspd/collage2016.png ).

Image courtesy of Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain (http://web.law.duke.edu/images/cspd/collage2016.png).

Happy 2016!

On behalf of the folks at Trademarkwise®, best wishes for 2016!  May the new year bring you everything your heart desires, which presumably is comprehensive protection for your trademark, copyright, and intellectual property matters on a budget-friendly, flat fee basis.  Carpe TM!

Image courtesy of Best Animations ( http://bestanimations.com/Holidays/NewYear/NewYear.html ).

Image courtesy of Best Animations (http://bestanimations.com/Holidays/NewYear/NewYear.html).