Who or what qualifies as an “author” under copyright law? Recent events on opposite sides of the world shed light on the question.
Last April, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confronted the issue of whether animals qualify as authors. The case arose when Naruto, a 7-year old crested macaque, noticed a camera lying unattended on the jungle floor of his neighborhood on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. For reasons known only to himself (but which may have involved the same egocentrism harbored by humans), Naruto paused in his travels to use the camera to take several photographs of himself. These pictures, dubbed the “Monkey Selfies” by the court, went viral.
While the Monkey Selfies case unfolded, a team in Holland — once the colonial master of Naruto’s homeland – were hard at work studying the facial features and proportions of the 346 known works of the Dutch Master, Rembrandt van Rijn. The team designed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) software program, incorporating a deep-learning algorithm, which analyzed Rembrandt’s use of geometry, composition, and painting materials. Utilizing a 3D printer, the program replicated the paint and brushstrokes Rembrandt might have used, applying 13 layers of ink. It generated a new work of art, consisting of more than 148 million pixels based on 168,263 painting fragments from Rembrandt’s body of works. The portrait, known as the Next Rembrandt, was put on display in 2016, and won two Grand Prix for cyber and creative data at the Cannes Lions Festival.
The Monkey Selfies and the Next Rembrandt would seem to have little in common. But for students of copyright law, they stand together, cheek by hairy jowl, forcing reconsideration of the nature of authorship. Continue reading
He is largely forgotten today, but ten years ago, a furious, wide-mouthed Kashmiri protester caused a stir in social media. His name was Shakeel Ahmad Bhat, but he became known as “Rage Boy.” Whenever cameras were present to record angry mobs protesting Israel, Pope Benedict, Salman Rushdie, or the Danish Muhammed cartoons, there was Rage Boy, demonstrating, in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens, “his piety and pissed-offness.”
After his identity was ascertained, Rage Boy became something of a cult figure. He was widely interviewed. His visage adorned posters, bumper stickers, and even boxer shorts.
Then he disappeared. No one knew what happened to him. Until now. We now know that Rage Boy emigrated to the United States, cloned himself, joined both political parties, and became the guiding spirit of American opinion.
Thanks to the absorption of Rage Boys into the body politic, rivalries today are less contests over ideas or ideology as they are competitions over who can lay claim to the sincerest, most deep-seated sense of rage. We have become a nation of Rage Boys. Continue reading
“Cultural appropriation” is the latest vehicle for those thumbing a ride to victim status. Unlike Black Lives Matter or the #MeToo movement, one needn’t have experienced injustice or discrimination to sign up. Practically anyone, from any culture, may proclaim his, her, or their victimization.
The most common definition of “cultural appropriation” is: The act of taking or using things from a culture not your own, especially without showing that you respect or understand it.
Now some cultures – those that sanction slavery or female genital mutilation, for example – deserve disrespect. But as a general rule, showing disrespect for or lack of understanding of another culture deserves condemnation. Still, many of the most recent examples of alleged cultural appropriation suggest that those complaining most loudly have the least understanding of the cultures they purport to defend. Continue reading
As widely reported in the press (see here, here, and here), Angela Davis has decided to donate her papers to Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library. Well, not exactly “donate.” The long-time Communist Party member has overcome her distaste for free market forces and sold her papers for an undisclosed sum of money. Harvard alumni might well ask: Is this how we want our contributions spent?
Let us begin with the indisputable. Larry Nassar is a monster. So it’s not surprising that Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who sentenced him to 40 to 175 years in prison, has been universally cheered. On the right, Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano has called her style of administering justice “nothing short of heroic.” On the left, feminist fans have proposed her for Person of the Year, or even for the Supreme Court.
But while Larry Nassar is a monster, our legal system is designed to protect the procedural rights of monsters. For without such protection, there is no guarantee that the same rights will be available to help the innocent.
For that reason, anyone concerned with due process must view with deep unease the manner in which Judge Aquilina handled the sentencing of Larry Nassar following his guilty plea for molesting seven girls. Continue reading
Last month, hours before the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the United States for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Ambassador Nikki Haley said: “I’ve often wondered why, in the face of such hostility, Israel has chosen to remain a member of this body.” An interesting question. But a better question would have been: Why has the United States chosen to remain a member of that body?
It is easy to understand why the United States joined originally. The UN emerged from the World War II alliance formed to combat the Axis Powers. On January 1, 1942, three weeks after Pearl Harbor, the United States and 25 other nations signed the “Declaration of the United Nations,” pledging to commit their full military and economic resources to defeat Germany and Japan. During the war, 20 additional countries signed the Declaration. These 46 countries were invited to attend the San Francisco Conference in 1945, which formally established the organization.
We are now three generations removed from that genesis. During those years, the UN has metamorphosed from its original mission as a bulwark against dictatorships to a safe harbor for them. According to Freedom House, only 45% of the members of the General Assembly are full-fledged democracies. The rest range from repressive authoritarian regimes such as Russia, Iran, and China, to full blown prison camps like North Korea.
If the United States were not already a member, would it make sense for it to join the UN in its present form? Continue reading
The President of the United States confronted a difficult decision concerning recognition in the volatile Middle East. He was personally sympathetic to the Israeli side. Many of his closest friends and confidantes were Jews, including some with whom he had participated in business ventures. But now his Secretary of State argued forcefully against recognition. The Secretary’s opposition was shared by almost the entire foreign policy establishment, as well as by the New York Times and the Washington Post. He was warned that if he proceeded with recognition, violence would erupt throughout the Middle East, America’s position at the United Nations would be weakened, and he himself would be accused of pandering for the Jewish vote.
Bucking the advice of his Secretary of State, the President decided in favor of recognition. The Prime Minister of Israel thanked him, and told him that his decision would earn him an immortal place in Jewish history.
These events, as recounted by Clark Clifford, occurred 70 years ago, when the President was Harry Truman, not Donald Trump; the Secretary of State was George Marshall, not Rex Tillerson; the Prime Minister was David Ben Gurion, not Benjamin Netanyahu; and the issue was recognition of the State of Israel, not recognition of its capital. With the benefit of hindsight, most would agree that Truman made the right decision in May of 1948. Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel — though almost universally condemned by the supposed experts on the region today — ultimately will also be seen as the right move. Continue reading