If there is one thing most people associated with copyright and images have been doing lately it is not getting involved in discussions about who owns the rights in a photograph taken by a monkey that 'borrowed' a camera and ran off a few shots.
Admittedly, there is an interesting argument to be had about whether the photograph is copyright at all since a macaque is not deemed to be a person capable of owning a copyright. Basically, as the copyright in a photograph belongs initially to 'the person who creates it' (unless taken during the course of employment) and a monkey is not a person, then the monkey is not the owner. Neither, it would seem, is the photographer whose camera was used, David Slater.
Back before the 1988 copyright act came into force, the photographer would probably have owned the copyright because the rule under the previous, 1956, act was that the 'commissioner' owned the rights. This had been taken to come down to who paid for the film. Who pressed the shutter wasn't the issue. While the 1988 act changed the rules for still images it did not do so for movies, known as films under the act whether they were a Hollywood motion picture or something shot on your camera phone. So if David Slater's camera had been a movie camera, he would own the copyright in the resulting footage.
This, to me, remains an unfortunate split, since the equipment used to take a still photograph and that used to shoot a movie can be the same piece of kit and the person doing it can be the same person. If this is likely ever to be an issue for you then I suggest you make it clear, in writing, who owns the rights. It still won't be the monkey.
The American arguments over the macaque selfie also included discussions on creativity, since (to over-simplify) a creative step is required under American law whereas UK law asks for the work to be original. After all, how much creativity is involved in pressing the shutter of a camera as compared to the art of a Rembrant (famous for a lifetime of selfies, and a few other things)?
Actually, I can argue, quite a lot. If you take a photograph then you have a large number of variables to contend with. I worked it out, and a photographer has to make choices in eleven dimensions ...
* the three dimensions of space for position
* the three dimensions of orientation for direction of shooting (pitch, roll and yaw)
* the dimension of perspective and framing (choice of focal length)
* the dimension of time (when to press the shutter)
* the dimension of duration (how long is the exposure)
* the dimension of focus (including depth of field)
* the dimension of spectrum (what wavelengths are recorded and how they're balanced/filtered)
Admittedly, there is more to creativity than choices, but undoubtedly the choices an artist makes are a significant part of that creativity. What do you think?
Andy Finney is an RPS member and also writes for http://www.infrared100.org/.
Image © Heather Allen. Heather is a member based in the Florida area of America and much of her work is focused on the fantastic environment that surrounds her home. This picture is from the album Zoo Life. To see more examples of Heather's work click here.