September 7, 2011
Can an Animal own a copyright ?
Facts in short, a famous wild life photographer David Slater during his visit to a national park in Indonesia, left his camera unattended (as claimed in the news report here and a macaque (a type of dexterous monkey) took up the camera and ended up clicking some fantastic photographs that have become a talk of the photography world. A couple of these photographs contain a copyright notice which indicates that the copyright in the photographs clicked by the macaque belongs to 'Caters News Agency'. The website techdirt.com covered this story and questioned the copyright ownership of Caters News Agency in these photographs. In turn, Caters News Agency sent a letter to techdirt requiring them to remove the photographs claiming that techdirt did not hold any copyrights in the photograph. The exchange of letters and notices continues, with techdirt publishing all letters and their replies on their website.
This controversy has brought to light one of the basic inquiries in copyright law i.e. who owns the copyright? Analyzing this with respect to Indian Copyright provisions, the first section that adds to the notoriety of the entire situation is section 2 (d) of the Copyright Act, 1957 which very clearly states that an author in relation to a photograph is the person taking the photograph (probably our legislators never contemplated a monkey clicking a photograph and hence the term 'person' in the definition). Caters News Agency claims to have obtained the copyright from the photographer i.e. David Slater but the pertinent question is- whether David Slater owns a copyright on the photographs in the first place? Techdirt's argument on the other hand is that the copyright in the content is not really owned by anyone and the photographs are in the public domain, open for anyone's use.
My argument on this would be based on the basic premise of copyright law which says that the creator of the copyrightable work is the first owner, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary(see Section 17 of ICA, 1957). So if the student writes an essay in exam, the teacher who asked him to write through a question owns the copyright or if a producer makes a movie, the copyright over everything, from script to music is owned by him (though, we have 'express' agreements stating 'otherwise' in this regard now).
Hence, whether Slater had he intention or not, he left the camera unattended and hence the monkey clicked the pictures, it was done at the instance of him, hence making him the owner of the copyright... (assuming the zoo keepers didnt have any express agreements in this regard, contemplating such situations)
and Probably, this argument would also be applicable to almost all the jurisdictions..
So, with all due respect to the skills of the macaque, but Mr. Slater, you have all the rights according to me..