Congress, Copyright and Monkeys

Friday, July 15, 2011


Techdirt's Michael Masnick talks about the PROTECT IP Act which is a bill making its way through Congress that would allow the DOJ to block sites it deems "infringing" on copyrighted material.  Masnick isn't a fan of the legislation.  His main critique is that the definition of "infringing" is way too broad. Plus, Masnick talks about standing his ground in a current copyright dispute involving Techdirt, a macaque monkey and a human photographer.

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    Artist: Anika

Comments [27]

Tom from Maryland

With regard to Guipago from Oklahoma's post, a book which includes traditional stories of the Kiowa can be copyrighted, but the stories themselves cannot - they are folklore and remain in the public domain. There is nothing to stop Indian writers from telling those stories in their own words, publishing them in books, and claiming copyright on their books.

Sep. 02 2011 09:43 AM
Brit from Denver

Regarding copyright and Mike Masnik:
Mike Masnik is to the far left of the copyright movement. His position is that copyright should not exist, except when selling copyrighted work. (In other words: filesharing should be fully legalized.) He's not in any sense middle of the road, and On the Media should point out that many of his objections to the copyright legislation are based on his objection to copyright law in general. I wish people would stop using Mike Masnik as an expert on these issues since he has an agenda. He tries hard to sound objective on the podcast, but when you know his actual views on the subject, it's hard to believe he isn't trying to steer listeners to a predefined position. Similarly, another author on tech-dirt (Nina) constantly argues that copyright in any form should not exist. Basically, if you or a movie studio create a movie, then anyone is allowed to do anything with that movie including package it and sell it. This would allow Amazon and Walmart to print, package, and sell all copyrighted works without paying the author a dime.

I'd also point out on the 50-cent issue that it makes sense that his label could prevent him from free distribution of his recorded work. The general agreement entered into between musicians and labels is this: the labels are making their money by selling recorded music. The musicians make a small amount of money, get an advance, and get promotion / marketing / advertising (which leads to fame and better ticket sales). If an artist is distributing his music for free, it undermines the record company's financial interests even while the artist gets all the benefits of having a label. That's an unfair thing to do to someone you've entered into a contract with.

Jul. 21 2011 08:34 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT USA

Shortly after hearing this, listened to Carol Highsmith on C-SPAN's Q & A speak of her and Frances Benjamin Johnston's gifting photos to our Library of Congress a century apart "unencumbered", without copyright, in the public domain, "to America, the world, future generations". Highsmith makes a pretty penny on her others. We should champion the public domain through these monkeys!

Ironic, isn't it, that Jefferson Airplane 's Volunteers for America is copyright protected?

Jul. 19 2011 10:49 PM
Dan from Sunnyvale

What's the artist/title of the song played at the end of this segment? I thought it sounded like Tones on Tail, but I was wrong. Thanks!

Jul. 19 2011 09:18 PM
steve from cuba, il, usa

It a legal sense, it may be that the copyright for the pictures belongs to whoever owns the monkeys. If they are wild, the only possible owner might be the governement of land where they live, or its agency that deals with wildlife management of conservation. If Mr. Masnick obtained a release to publish the monkey's photos from the Director of the Department of the Interior (or similar agency) in the home country of the monkeys, nobody else could prevail against that in court.

It would be nice if the monkeys themselves could hold the rights, but this is a legal, not necessarily moral, dispute.

Jul. 19 2011 02:11 PM

Nice teeth!

Jul. 19 2011 08:56 AM
Guipago from Oklahoma

The conflict with the monkey reminds me of my own people. I'm a Kiowa (this is a plains indian tribe). Many of our traditional stories were told to white people who wrote them down in books which are copyrighted, not by any member of our tribe, but by the person who transcribed it. This isn't just the situation of my own tribe, it's the situation of every tribe whose stories have been stolen. Like monkeys, it is appears to be presumed that Indians are not capable of creating copyrighted works, but those non-indian people who first publicize them feel entitled to copyright the work. It's pretty outrageous, just as outrageous as a photographer selling the copyright to a photo that was taken by a monkey.

Jul. 18 2011 10:42 PM
Booga from Los Angeles


When a human is being snarky, his language must be impeccable. You misplaced a comma.

Jul. 18 2011 12:28 PM
Jobar M.

My name is Jobar. I am the artist whose self-portrait appears above. While amused by your sophomoric discussion regarding copyright law, I must note that these photographs do not represent the whim or whimsy of mere monkeys, as some would believe, but, rather, a protracted artistic battle between id and superego; long have the pale ghosts of the mysterious obscurities of self plagued my dreams. These battles I have plainly captured. The dragons are slain. Uh. These photographs, executed by my own hand, mark the culmination of my artistic quest. Have your pennies, "humans", and sink into the rank mud with them.

Jul. 17 2011 10:55 PM
Hedwig C. Swanson from Buffalo, NY

The attempt to massively claim infringement in the new copyright IP law reminds me of Fantasy v. Fogerty in the early 90's, in which Fantasy Records accused John Fogerty of copying songs he wrote as a member of Creedance Clearwater Revival. Fogerty won. Copyright is supposed to protect the artist, not the corporations. Talk to many older black artists whose copyrights were stolen prior to the civil rights era, as well. The internet should be at least as free for comment, satirizing, and improving upon artistic creation as prior technology was allowed to be.

Jul. 17 2011 09:55 PM
Alex Pearce from Sierra Vista,AZ

It's at times like this, when it seems to me, that the intelligence of monkeys, to use a camera properly, makes one worry about the future of our country and the world for that matter, of the decisions that they make in that House and Hill in D.C.

Jul. 17 2011 09:02 PM
Sharon from Tampa from Tampa, FL

Looks like those monkeys are also pretty adept at Photoshop.

Jul. 17 2011 05:57 PM
Susan Miller from Albany CA

Allen's comment is correct. When working for a company, an artist is doing "work for hire" and all rights are retained by the company.
Had the camera owner paid the monkeys with weekly bananas he could have retained the rights to the monkey self portraits.
I too would like to see more of the photos. I think I recognize the one in the above photo as a former boyfriend in Cleveland.

Jul. 17 2011 05:54 PM
waltsfo from CA

Showing again that IP Intellectual Property may be a big misnomer, since this arguably took very little intellect to produce.

No doubt the monkeys themselves will shortly be sued for violating the look and feel of Pixar's IP.

Jul. 17 2011 05:49 PM
Dan from Rockford Illinois

I am not even sure if this monkey is real ????

Jul. 17 2011 04:52 PM
David from North Carolina

Does the owner of the camera have a contract signed by the monkeys ceding him all rights to the photos they took with his camera?

Jul. 17 2011 04:49 PM
Barbara from Jersey City

I think s/he's got a great smile!

Jul. 17 2011 03:49 PM
ohan karagozian from New Haven, CT.

I'm new to the game and I am just trying to get a handle on this.

If the work that was created by the artist is the copyright of the artist, then what about the company the artist works for?

Jul. 17 2011 03:48 PM
Bruce from NYC

I'm just a little worried that the monkey is smiling for the camera.

Jul. 17 2011 01:51 PM
Peter Ungar from New Rochelle, NY

It is a great picture. As for its story, here is a statistic: the number of monkeys that take such pictures without instruction is dwarfed by the number of people who invent such stories.

Jul. 17 2011 12:31 PM
Emily from NYC

Forget the copyright conflict. Where can I see more pictures of/by these monkeys? They're great photographers!

Jul. 17 2011 11:55 AM
Hernondez Gadsden from Harlem

Aloha! I agree with Allen from Honolulu. If a firm can own the copyrights to the photos of "their" photographer, then give "these" copyrights to the owner of "that" camera or else give them to the monkeys. hernie...

Jul. 17 2011 10:57 AM
Cynthia from New Jersey

The pictures are awesome! If the monkeys can't make money from them it should be public domain : )

Jul. 17 2011 10:47 AM
jascon from Dallas, TX

This is the crux of copyright law fiasco. What was to protect the artists from theft of profits have become dubious legal investments. Copyrights should only be granted to the original artist or company for work paid and only for 7yrs then its public domain. No one sues for copyright of Picasso, 4 dogs playing poker, Gettyburg Address, etc. just RIAA and MPAA for art by artists who were paid, and in some cases artists who died 80yrs ago.

Jul. 16 2011 08:10 PM
jascon from Dallas, TX

This is the crux of copyright law fiasco. What was to protect the artists from theft of profits have become dubious legal investments. Copyrights should only be granted to the original artist or company for work paid and only for 7yrs then its public domain. No one sues for copyright of Picasso, 4 dogs playing poker, Gettyburg Address, etc. just RIAA and MPAA for art by artists who were paid, and in some cases artists who died 80yrs ago.

Jul. 16 2011 07:56 PM

I think Congress should stop this monkey business, and concentrate in the people's business.

Jul. 16 2011 07:45 AM
allen from honolulu, hi

The statement that the person who took the photograph retains the copyright is not always true. If the photographer was was an employee of a firm the firm retains the rights to the photograph unless stated otherwise. In this case the photographer has the original images and should be able to claim copyright since obviously the monkeys cannot.

Jul. 16 2011 12:05 AM

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