Copyright Oddities

Copyright is a weird animal.  It’s one of the few constitutionally-mandated personal rights and it serves as the basis for the vast majority of the things people do online and in their daily lives (everything from this blog to your tweets and FB status postings to anything you write as a result of your job…. to photos you take while on vacation).  Yet it’s so fundamentally misunderstood that it’s almost a joke.

Which is interesting given that the penalties for violating copyright are pretty severe.  Forgetting the civil penalties (those that can be levied against you by the actual person you harmed), the criminal penalties can go up to $250,000/copy + 5 years in Club Fed.

One of the nuances of copyright is that in order to have a copyright in something, you have to have created the work covered by copyright (and it has to be a work that can be granted a copyright) … or you have to have acquired the copyright rights from the person who created the work.

Which makes the situation around the photographer who had his camera lifted by a monkey … and who then proceeded to snap a wonderful self-portrait …. so damn interesting, especially to those of us interested in copyrights.

In fact, as soon as I saw this image, I went to make it my Facebook profile photo.  Which, of course, I shouldn’t do – I don’t own the image.  And it took Facebook reminding me of this fact for me to actually stop from doing it.  But the question is:  who holds the copyright to the image?

The ownership of the photograph itself is clear: it’s the photographer (and perhaps the wire news service that paid the photographer for the photo).  But copyright doesn’t automatically transfer with the ownership of the tangible item – again, copyright is a weird creature and unless you’re willing to dive down the moral rights rabbit hole with me tonight, just accept what I tell you as fact and look it up later.

Copyright, however, requires an “author” … and per US law (17 USC), an author can only be a “natural person” or a “juridicial person” (a corporation, etc).  A monkey (or other animal) doesn’t fit into either category and is thus unable to hold copyright.  The result is that there now exists a legal quandary.  Who (if anyone) holds copyright?

The law is pretty clear at the moment (and, in fact, is being used as yet another example of how copyright law is outdated and needs to be revised for the 21st century – but really, do picture-taking monkeys only exist in the 21st century?).  However, the news agency seems to assert that copying is at least uncool if not illegal.  Which is going to prompt someone to eventually sue.

This is one to watch, folks.  The outcome could get interesting.

The Mole – Subliminal Advertising?

Back in 2001, ABC television launched a new reality gameshow called “The Mole.”

The concept was simple… play a game to win money, but try to figure out who is trying to sabotage the game (thus reducing the amount of money available to win). Each week, players would attempt to identify the Mole – and eliminate those that they thought WERE the Mole.

There were two sequels, Mole 2 and Celebrity Mole (if I remember correctly, Stephen Baldwin was the best Mole ever). In any event, I’d pretty much forgotten about the show until a few weeks ago.

It’s no secret that I have Tivo and love skipping commercials. But even with a great trigger finger, I still usually have to pop back with just a few seconds left before the end of the commercial break. And a few weeks ago, I caught sight of a single dark frame with “the mole was here” written on it during Lost. I didn’t think much of it… thinking that maybe someone was just playing around and messed something up.

But I’m watching Brothers and Sisters right now… and here it is again at the 21 minute mark.

A quick jump to IMDB says that it looks like they’re doing a new “season” in 2008. And Wikipedia confirms what I’m seeing, too, as an advertisement for the Mole.

But how is this not subliminal advertising? I think the argument is that it’s actually consciously visible (ie: you actually KNOW that you’re seeing the logo and words) and thus it’s not actually subliminal.

I don’t know that I buy that, though. Any experts in advertising law out there?


Jim Crow laws were wrong. They are wrong today and they were wrong 50 years ago. Arrests made under those laws were just as wrong. Rosa Parks (and the many men and women who came before and after her) are heros because they stood up and announced to the world that those laws were wrong.

Today, some folks are still looking to apologize in some way (as we should – and oh, btw, as long as we’re talking about this… let’s just say it all… we have to start with a very obviously missing “We’re SORRY!”). And the latest attempt is pardoning those people who were wrongly arrested, starting with Parks. For those folks who are still alive and for whom the pardon would erase their “criminal” history, that’s great and they should receive one. In many cases, however, the pardon comes 50+ years TOO DAMN LATE!

For example, Lillie Mae Bradford (now 75) has suffered the effects of an arrest record since 1951. Yes, she wants a pardon and should be granted one. But that’s still not going to undo the injustice suffered for the last 55 years. It’s not going to make her career better now (she had trouble landing government jobs because of the record). All we (and I’m speaking for the average white citizen here) are doing is trying to appease our conscience.

And if that’s what “we” want to do… start with a sincere apology. Then fix the friggin’ problem (which STILL exists in many parts of this country).

For an “advanced” society, we’re still pretty messed up.