Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Monkeys, robots and copyright

Macaca nigra self-portraitYesterday I recorded the first lecture in my copyright class (IST 735: Copyright for Information Professionals).  During the lecture, I mentioned that an animal - in this case, a monkey - cannot hold copyright.  This fact has come to light because of a photograph taken by a crested black macaque with equipment owned by photographer David Slate.  As the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices notes, the work must be the creation of a human. Section 306 states:
The Office will not register works produced by nature,animals or plants.
Sadly, for Slate, he cannot claim copyright in the work, which means it is in the public domain (and that is good for us).

In addition:
Similarly, the Office will not register works produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author.
A July 2014 podcast from RN Future Tense tackled "Automation, employment and a legal theory for 'autonomous artificial agents'."  As robots evolve and are able to seemingly think on their own, if they create a new work, the Compendium states that they could not own copyright. Of course, that could change if intelligent machines and their attorneys fight the system.

Ah...the law...!

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