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On Gods and Macaques: Who Owns the Monkey Selfie?

Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 19, 2014

crested black macaque © David SlaterIf an Indonesian monkey in the middle of the forest on a remote island takes a selfie with an English photographer’s camera, who owns the copyright? While this sounds like a pseudo case history dreamt up by a creative law professor to present during a lecture on intellectual property, the story, and the rights issue raised, are very real. British wildlife photographer David Slater spent a number of days stalking a group of crested black macaque monkeys. As the animals became accustomed to him and his equipment, they approached the camera, setting it off. The resulting self portraits, showing the monkeys grimacing at their reflections in the large camera lens, are hysterical.

The photos were an Internet sensation when they appeared on a number of news websites such as the Daily Mail in 2011. (Slater licensed the images through his agent, Caters News Agency.) Recently, the images hit the news again when several of the images, marked as public domain, were published by a Wikimedia user in their “free media repository,” Wikimedia Commons. Slater requested that Wikimedia remove the photos, and the organization refused to do so, stating that the photographer cannot claim to own the copyright since he didn’t actually snap the photo.

So who does own the copyright? Attorney Leslie Burns addressed the issue in her blog post, “On the Monkey Selfie.” In her article, she cited Wikimedia Foundation’s  Chief Communications Officer Katharine Maher, who is quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “What we found is that U.S. copyright law says that works that originate from a non-human source can’t claim copyright.” Burns disputes the basic premise presented by Maher, stating that since the photograph was taken in Indonesia, on a camera that belongs to a UK citizen, US copyright law hardly applies.

Guild Advocacy Liaison Lisa Shaftel expressed a similar view on the Copyright Clearance Center’s, “On Copyright ,” SoundCloud channel. In her opinion, US Copyright law is not relevant to the claim. Shaftel makes no conclusions as to who owns the copyright. However, she dismisses Wikimedia’s claim that the photograph is public domain, stating that the organization is making unauthorized use of the photo.

Burns dug up a case history that could have some bearing. In a second blog post, “More Monkey Business,” she cites the case of Urantia Foundation v. Maaherra. The case hinged on some text that was purported to have been authored by celestial beings. The court looked closely at whether the work was copyrightable, since authors were non-human. The court decision stated “…so as long as a human (or humans) did something to contribute to making this work, then the copyright did exist and vested in those humans.” Burns proposes that were Slater a US photographer, whatever work he did to the images – converting the RAW files, culling the photos, cropping or tweaking the color balance – would confer upon him copyright ownership since the photos were actually snapped by a non-human.

Of course Slater is not a citizen of the United States, and US copyright law is not applicable here. However, the conditions under which the photos were taken may be very relevant to the outcome of the case. Despite earlier stories which reported that the photos were taken without his intervention, Slater’s back story claims that he set up the conditions which enable the monkey-selfie: encouraging the macaques to come closer, adjusting the settings (auto-focus, shutter speed, etc.) to be optimal, placing the camera on a tripod the monkeys would approach, and even steadying the tripod with one hand.

While some may question Slater’s story, what isn’t up for debate is the impact having the photos available on the Wikimedia site is having on Slater’s bottom line. As Petapixel reports, “Whether or not the letter of the law agrees with Slater’s claim is up for debate, but one thing is certain: he’s missed out on a lot of potential licensing fees thanks in large part to the photo being uploaded to the Commons.”

Photo © David Slater. Used with permission.

This Is the Story about “These Are the Things”

Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 13, 2014

Jen Adrion and Omar Noory of the design and illustration studio, These are the Things, are the paradigm of successful creative entrepreneurs. Young and attractive, their resumes are the stuff of designer envy: creators of cool maps featured on the tony shopping site Fab, illustrators with a steady gig with Afar magazine, purveyors of beautiful cards and posters, and subjects of a case study in a best selling book on successful start-ups. Yet at last autumn’s Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, Adrion and Noory dispelled any myth of an easy ride. In a talk memorable for its honesty, they described the daunting setbacks they’ve faced.

The lecture, titled ”How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Enjoy The Ride,” is illustrated with a graph showing Adrion and Noory’s meteoric rise, a suitable device for two infographic designers. Rather than showing a steady, straight angle towards success, the upward trend is punctuated with deep dips representing financial loss, anxiety, and thwarted plans. The two provide a frank recounting of their setbacks, from unmet expectations, to naïve mistakes and oversights in financial planning, to circumstances beyond their control.

Despite the grim topic of lessons learned, the lecture is hardly a downer. Both Adrion and Noory are brimming with energy and self deprecating humor, and many of their setbacks were the result of inexperience, hardly unsurprising for two 20-somethings starting their first company. What stands out is their ability to assess a bad situation, and do whatever is necessary to continue in the business they love. The lecture is a gift to the creative community, made all the more generous by Adrion and Noory’s openness.

A full transcript of their talk is provided on their website.

Portrait of Adrion and Noory, used with permission.

Jen Aldrion and Omar Noory

Guild joins Amicus Brief in Support of Comic Creators & Artist

Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 11, 2014

Seal of the Supreme CourtOn July 22, the Graphic Artists Guild joined the National Writers Union (NWU), the  Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in signing on to an amicus brief on behalf of the heirs of the creators of  “Superman,” Siegel and Shuster, and Jack Kirby, an early Marvel Comics artist. The brief supports the rights of both families to sue DC Comics and its parent company, Warner Brothers, and Marvel, respectively, to recover the original copyrights to the work of Siegel and Shuster, and of Kirby. The families of Siegel and Shuster, and of Kirby, are seeking to have the US Supreme Court hear their appeals of two Circuit Court decisions which rejected their attempts to regain the copyrights.  
 
Siegel and Shuster, the co-creators of the Superman series, originally signed away their rights to the character in 1938. Their heirs unsuccessfully sought to terminate DC Comic's copyrights to the work by issuing statutory notices of termination in 1997 and 2002. In 2013, the Ninth Circuit Court stripped Shuster's heirs of termination rights, a ruling that according to NWU ignores the Supreme Court's opinion in the landmark case NY Times v Tasini (2001), which ruled that termination rights are inalienable. Kirby's heirs sought to terminate Marvel’s copyrights to his artwork, a move which Marvel countered in 2010 by suing the Kirby family for declaratory relief that Kirby's work fell under the work for hire exception to the Copyright Act. The judge hearing the case ruled in favor of Marvel, and the ruling was affirmed by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013.
 
While the Supreme Court has not yet stated that the petition will be reviewed, indications are good. Marvel initially refused to respond to the petition, but was asked by the justices on May 14 to file a response. The petition has been distributed to the justices for conference on September 29. A ruling by the Supreme Court in favor of the heirs to Siegel, Shuster, and Kirby would have wide implications on the interpretation of the copyrights of independent contractors and creators.

 

For clarification on “all rights,” “termination of rights,” and “work for hire,” visit our Contract Glossary.

Dorm Room Tycoon: Information & Inspiration

Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 06, 2014

Dorm Room Tycoon sounds like a startup founded by a 20-something cobbling together the next big Internet sensation. In fact, it’s a collection of podcasts with innovators in design, technology, and business. A wide range of design disciplines is covered, featuring the likes of Jeffrey Zeldman (webdesign and coding), Erik Spiekermann (typography), Swiss Miss (communication design), and Jason Saint Maria (interactive design). The interviews are a relaxed exchange, as DRT founder William Channer and the interviewee seem to wander from topic to topic. Listening to the podcasts is rather like overhearing two very bright people having a comfortable conversation.

Channer started DRT in 2011. As a creative and mobile product designer based in London, he was frustrated by the dearth of solid advice on building a startup business. Reading profiles of entrepreneurs in technology publications exacerbated his frustration, since most articles focused on irrelevant life stories, or perpetuated origin myths. Channer decided to conduct his own interviews that would focus on questions about process, drawing out practical advice and life experience. He chose the name, “Dorm Room Tycoon,” to reflect the idea of starting small and doing something big.  

Channer has applied what he’s learned from the DRT interviewees. Just this year, he launched Panda, a web app and Chrome extension, which provides a steady stream of news and inspiration. The web app provides a split screen with news feed of article links on technology, design, and job listings on the left, and thumbnails streamed from portfolio sites Behance, Dribbble, and Awwwards on the right. The news feed streams from technology and design aggregators, such as Hacker News, sidebar.io, and Layervault Designer News. Users can add the Chrome extension to their browser window, book mark the web app,  and subscribe to Panda’s  weekly newsletter.

Below: The speakers featured in Dorm Room Tycoon are tagged by color codes: red for business, green for technology, and gold for design.
Image © Doorm Room Tycoon. Used with permission.

Outdatedbrowser: Show them the Rainbow

Posted by Rebecca Blake on July 31, 2014

Outdatedbrowser illustration © BürocratikWeb developers complain that testing websites for outdated versions of browsers is one of their biggest headaches (as well as a huge, frustrating time suck). Portuguese digital design agency Bürocratik has developed Outdatedbrowser.com, a lovely solution that encourages users (in the nicest, most colorful way) to update their browsers. The developers at Bürocratic have created a script that coders can incorporate into their website code. The script detects whether visitors to the website are on old browsers, warns them if they are, and offers a button-click to remedy the problem. If the user clicks onto the “Update my Broswer” link, a drop-down graphic permits them to select from the five most popular browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Opera.

The script works well at detecteing outdated versions of the five major website browsers, going back as far as IE6. The script also does not force the visitors to update their browsers, but rather simply makes the recommendation; users can continue to visit whichever website is utilizing the script unimpeded. This addresses concerns website designers have on behalf of users who are reluctant or prohibited from updating their browsers (such as individuals working in corporate offices with strict IT department restrictions on downloads).

Developers can download the full package of JSS, CSS, and language files from Github, and the Outdatedbrowser website offers simple instructions to embed the code.  A version of the package has been developed for coders working in WordPress, as well as a RubyGem package for Rails.  

Images © Bürocratik. Used with permission.

Outdatedbrowser screenshot © Bürocratik

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We're looking for the following submissions from Guild members:

-Your professional news for the Spotlight column.
Recent achievement, honor, or promotion; new position, business, or product; website launch; published work; exhibit; workshop or conference presentation; etc. Please include your name, discipline, location, and website URL with your submission of 100 words or less.

-Volunteer Illustrator for cover and spot illustrations for a feature article.
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Please note: volunteer illustrators create original work for a cover that illustrates the feature story. Illustrators may be chosen at the Art Director's discretion for either the current cover or a future cover, depending on the appropriateness of their style to the topic being illustrated. A volunteer illlustrator will receive credit on the front cover and in the masthead, and a paragraph about the illustrator and his/her work will be printed on page 2.

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