Animal-made art

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A trained elephant painting in Chiang Mai.

Animal-made art is a work of art created by an animal. Animal-made art has been created by apes, elephants, reptiles,[1] bowerbirds,[2] and other animals and birds.

Painting primates[edit]

During the late 1950s, biologists began to study the nature of art in humans. Theories were proposed based on observations of non-human primate paintings. Hundreds of such paintings were cataloged by Desmond Morris. Morris and his associate Tyler Harris interpreted these canvas paintings as indications of an intrinsic motivation toward abstract creativity, as expressed through an exploration of the visual field and color. Many of these painters progressed over time by expanding or contracting the area of paint coverage, the horizontal or vertical stroke relationships, and even the development of content.

Monkey paintings were exhibited in many modern art museums during an early 1960s fad. The cultural and scientific interest in monkey painting diminished steadily and little note is taken today.

Painting Pachyderms[edit]

Elephants in captivity have been trained to paint as a form of zoo environmental and behavioural enrichment. An example of this is seen at Melbourne Zoo.[3] However, research published in July, 2014 indicated that elephants gain little enrichment from the activity of painting apart from the positive reinforcement given by zookeepers during the activity. The scientists concluded that the "benefits of this activity appear to be limited to the aesthetic appeal of these paintings to the people viewing them".[4]

Copyright issues[edit]

"Monkey selfie" case[edit]

One of the disputed "selfie" photographs taken by a macaque

In 2011, nature photographer David Slater travelled to Indonesia to take photographs of the Celebes crested macaques. During his preparations, a female macaque absconded with his camera and took several photographs. Most of these photographs were unusable, but some were clear photographs of the macaque, which Slater later distributed as a "monkey's selfie".[5] Slater licensed the image to the Caters News Agency, under the presumption that he held copyright to the photo; Slater argued that he had "engineered" the shot, and that "it was artistry and idea to leave them to play with the camera and it was all in my eyesight. I knew the monkeys were very likely to do this and I predicted it. I knew there was a chance of a photo being taken." His copyright claim was questioned by the blog Techdirt, which argued that the photograph was in the public domain because the monkey was not a legal person capable of holding a copyright, and Slater could not hold copyright to the photo because he was not involved in its creation.[6][7][8]

Afterward, Caters issued a request for the photo to be removed, citing a lack of permission; however, in response to a reply by the blog's author, Mike Masnick, the representative stated that he had "blatantly 'lifted' these photographs from somewhere - I presume the Daily Mail online", and continued to request its removal (despite his claim that, if it were even capable of being copyrighted, the photo's use on Techdirt would be considered fair use under United States copyright law), believing that "regardless of the issue of who does and doesn't own the copyright - it is 100% clear that the copyright owner is not yourself."[6][8]

Slater's photographs were also uploaded to the multimedia repository Wikimedia Commons; the site only accepts media that are licensed under a free content license, in the public domain, or otherwise ineligible for copyright. The website had similarly listed Slater's photographs as being in the public domain on the grounds that it was the creation of an animal, and not a person. Slater requested that the Wikimedia Foundation, the owners of Wikimedia Commons, either pay for the photographs or remove them from Wikimedia Commons, claiming that he owned copyright on them. His claim was rejected by the organization, which supported the position that the monkey was the author of the photograph, but cannot hold copyright because it is an animal. The request was revealed as part of a transparency report released by the foundation in August 2014.[5][9]

Slater told BBC News that he had suffered financial loss as a result of the pictures being available on Wikimedia Commons, "I made £2,000 [for that picture] in the first year after it was taken. After it went on Wikipedia all interest in buying it went. It's hard to put a figure on it but I reckon I've lost £10,000 or more in income. It's killing my business."[5] Slater was quoted by The Daily Telegraph as saying, "What they don't realise is that it needs a court to decide [the copyright]."[10]

The copyright to an artistic work is typically held by its author. In cases where the artistic work was created by an animal, intellectual property analysts Mary M. Luria and Charles Swan have argued that neither the human who provides the equipment used to create the work, nor the human who owns the animal itself (when applicable), can hold the copyright to the resulting work by the animal. In these cases, the animal's work was not an intellectual creation of the humans, and copyrights can only be held by legal persons—which an animal is not.[11]

American and British intellectual property lawyers Mary M. Luria and Charles Swan said that because the creator of the photograph is an animal and not a person, there is no copyright on the photograph, regardless of who owns the equipment with which the photograph was created.[12] However, British media lawyer Christina Michalos said that on the basis of British law on computer-generated art, it is arguable that the photographer may own copyrights on the photograph, because he owned and presumably had set up the camera.[13]

On August 22, 2014, the United States Copyright Office clarified their rules to state that items created by a non human cannot be copyrighted, and lists in their examples a "photograph taken by a monkey" which would appear to reference this case.[14][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ramde, Dinesh (7 April 2008). "Dumbo paints! Animals make zoo artwork". USA Today. Gannett Company. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  2. ^ Diamond, Jared (1 May 1986). "Animal art: Variation in bower decorating style among male bowerbirds Amblyornis inornatus". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (National Academy of Sciences) 83 (9). Archived from the original on 14 August 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  3. ^ "Animal artistry". Zoos Victoria. Archived from the original on 12 August 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  4. ^ English M, Kaplan G, Rogers LJ. (2014) Is painting by elephants in zoos as enriching as we are led to believe? PeerJ 2:e471
  5. ^ a b c "Photographer 'lost £10,000' in Wikipedia monkey 'selfie' row". BBC News. August 7, 2013. Retrieved August 7, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Masnick, Mike (July 3, 2011). "Monkeys Don't Do Fair Use; News Agency Tells Techdirt To Remove Photos". Techdirt. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  7. ^ "Can monkey who took grinning self-portrait claim copyright?". Metro. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Masnick, Mike. "Can We Subpoena The Monkey? Why The Monkey Self-Portraits Are Likely In The Public Domain". Techdirt. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  9. ^ "Wikipedia reveals Google 'forgotten' search links". BBC News. August 6, 2014. Retrieved August 8, 2014. 
  10. ^ Sparkes, Matthew (2014-08-06). "Wikipedia refuses to delete photo as 'monkey owns it'". The Daily Telegraph (London: Telegraph Media Group). Retrieved 2014-08-06. 
  11. ^ "Monkey Selfie Lands Photographer in Legal Quagmire". The Lightbox. Time. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  12. ^ Laurent, Olivier (6 August 2014). "Monkey Selfie Lands Photographer in Legal Quagmire". Time (Time Inc.). Archived from the original on 14 August 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  13. ^ "Monkey 'selfie' picture sparks Wikipedia copyright row". ITV News (ITV plc). 6 August 2014. Archived from the original on 13 August 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  14. ^ Axelrad, Jacob (22 August 2014). "US government: Monkey selfies ineligible for copyright". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  15. ^ "Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition (public draft)". United States Copyright Office. 19 August 2014. p. 54. Retrieved 24 September 2014. 

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