Does Jumbo Own the Copyright?

A student of mine raised an interesting issue...  Who owns the copyright if an animal creates a work of art?

Now I'm not using the word "animal" here as the all-inclusive term for anything that's not vegetable or mineral.  (In other words, I don't mean people as animals.)  I'm talking about such occasions as those that sometimes make the news when a zoo or wildlife park is selling two-dimensional "works of art" that are the result of an animal being let loose with a bucket of paint.  You know, like when they let an elephant hold a paint brush with its trunk and have it slather colors over a canvas or piece of paper.

Under current American copyright law, the creator (or, as the statute reads, "author") of a work of art automatically owns the copyright on any piece of art that's created.  But does that mean the elephant of the above referenced scenario is the legal copyright owner?

I can't recall seeing anything in the copyright act that limits the definition of "author" to human beings.  So maybe the elephant, as the author, does own the copyright.  But it does beg the question:  How is the elephant going to take the matter to court if it believes its copyright has been infringed?  (That's going to be a tough cross-examination on the witness stand for the defense attorney.)

Okay, so maybe the person who put the brush in the elephant's trunk and directed it toward the paints is the elephant's joint author for the purposes of copyright.  I suppose the claim could be made.  But courts have ruled that joint authorship only exists when both parties intend to be joint authors.

Sounds like a job for Dr. Doolittle...

"Doctor, please ask the plaintiff elephant to explain to the court what his intentions were when he decided to become a commercial artist."...

Agreement Designed to Help Keep Ancient Greek Art in Greece

The United States and Greece are a step closer to helping keep the art of ancient Greece from being looted and shuttled out of its homeland.  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Greece Minister of Foreign Affairs Stavros Lambrinidis signed a Memorandum of Understanding that is designed to make it more difficult for those who illegally transport ancient Greek art works to the United States.  According to a State Department Fact Sheet, it attempts to do that by imposing importing restrictions on certain Greek cultural relics, and requiring government documentation for their importation into America.

Public Domain or Dangerous Minefield?

Is public domain material a free-for-all for any and every purpose?? Maybe not.

One of my students in the playwriting class I'm currently teaching called my attention to the case of Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., et al., v. X One X Productions, et al., which was recently decided in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit.? The case involved a manufacturer?who was incorporating into novelty items public domain publicity images of the films Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz as well as publicity images of the cartoon characters Tom and Jerry.? Warner Bros., which owns the?characters depicted in the images, sued for copyright infringement.

The case was tricky because, first, most characters aren't usually copyrightable.? But, in the case of cartoon characters or very distinctive characters, sometimes they are.? The Court had to decide whether publicity photos of actors in costume?alone constituted an image of a copyrighted character.? The Court said no to that.? That came too close to claiming the actor, himself, was copyrightable.

But another?issue was whether the publicity images, which were undisputed to be in the public domain, were fair game to be incorporated into other products by the manufacturer.? The Court's basic ruling goes something like this:

So long as the public domain property is merely duplicated, there can be no copyright infringement.? However, if you include copyrighted material into the duplication without permission, that constitutes an infringement of copyright.

An example the Court gave was this: a public domain photo of the actress Judy Garland in her "Dorothy" costume could be duplicated without violating copyright law unless you also include with the photo her movie character's famous last line, "There's no place like home."? That line is the copyrighted intellectual property of Warner Bros., and the use of public domain property doesn't open the door to the inclusion of that which isn't in the public domain.

When Is Public Art Not for the Public?

The answer to the question posed in the title of this post is:  Possibly when the "public" is a professional photographer who sells a photo that includes an image of someone else's public art creation.

In this case, I'm talking about a Seattle public artwork known as "Broadway Dance Steps," which was created by sculptor Jack Mackie.  In 2009, Mr Mackie sued photographer Mike Hipple after Mr Hipple sold to a stock photo agency a picture he took of a woman dancing next to the work of art.

Mr. Mackie claimed copyright infringement.  Mr. Hipple claimed fair use.

The issue remains undecided because the case was recently settled before it went to trial.  In his blog, Mr. Hipple said the financial stakes made it such that it wasn't worth continuing the fight.  "I did not realize then that selling a photograph which includes part of a copyrighted public artwork can violate that copyright," his blog states.

Adios to Latin Jazz Category Could Mean a Class Action Against the Grammys

The Grammy Awards' decision to eliminate several awards categories has at least one group of musicians riled up enough to threaten litigation.  According to the New York Times ArtsBeat Blog, a New York law firm says it's going to file a class action suit against the Grammys on behalf of musicians who play Latin jazz (one of the dropped categories).

Suggestions of racism may be at the heart of the threatened suit's allegations.  According to Latin jazz musician Bobby Sanabria, who's quoted in ArtsBeat, almost three-quarters of the eliminated awards categories are related to ethnic or racially oriented music.