Category Archives: art

Non-human authors wanted. Drones, robots, and our relationship with technology.

“My relationship with the drone is like playing a video game: I feel out a composition and the drone will agree or challenge me. Eventually, though, the drone will develop a creative mind of its own.”  [KATSU, in interview with Mandi Keighran and N magazine, summer 2014].

KATSU, the New York City based artist/vandal/hacker depending on your point of view, raises the question in that interview for Norwegian Airlines’ magazine, of the relationship of “technology to graffiti,” or more broadly, of technology to art as a whole.

This, combined with another seemingly unrelated recent story, the David Salter macaque photo, made me wonder about drones, robots, and the role of the (non-)human author – our relationship with technology in art and beyond.

Ownership and Responsibility – Human or non-Human?

I wondered in both stories, how it may affect ownership and copyright. Rights, which led me to consider the boundaries of responsibility.

I should preface this by saying I know little about copyright and less about drones. But I’m thinking my lay thoughts, out loud.

In the first instance, if drones are used for creating something as in this story, is it as simple as ‘he who owns the drone owns or is responsible for the art it creates’? I wonder, because I don’t know, and while it may be clear today, I wonder if it is changing?

As regards the second story, when the monkey-selfie went around the world focus was sharper on copyright law, than it was in the majority of the photos the macaque had taken.  “Can a monkey own a picture?” asked many, including Metro at the time.

”Wikimedia, the non-profit organisation behind Wikipedia, has refused a photographer’s repeated requests to stop distributing his most famous shot for free – because a monkey pressed the shutter button and should own the copyright,” said the Telegraph.

But whilst most on social media and the press I read, focused on the outcome for this individual photographer, I wondered, what is the impact for the future of photography?

I’ve come to the conclusion, in this particular case I think it is more important we consider it less about the monkey having taken the photo, and more important that it was decided that a human, did not.

This decision was not (yet) decided by a UK court,  but was reached in Wikimedia’s own report.

Since then, the LA Times reported on August 21st, that:

“the public draft of the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition —was released this week[1], and, after final review, is to take effect in mid-December [2] — says the office will register only works that were created by human beings.”

This is the first major revision in over twenty years and is an internal manual, so it does not have the force of law.  But it’s still significant.

Copyright suitability is dependent on that the work “was created by a human being,” and only protects “…the fruits of intellectual labor” which are “founded in the creative powers of the mind.” Animal ownership is expressly excluded. (Section 306 – The Human Authorship Requirement). Pantomimes performed by a machine or robot are similarly, expressly non-copyrightable. (p.527) and continues:

“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.” (p 55)

The Telegraph article {August 6th} by Matthew Sparkes, said:

‘In its report Wikimedia said that it “does not agree” that the photographer owns the copyright, but also that US law means that “non-human authors” do not have the right to automatic copyright of any photographs that they take.

“To claim copyright, the photographer would have had to make substantial contributions to the final image, and even then, they’d only have copyright for those alterations, not the underlying image. This means that there was no one on whom to bestow copyright, so the image falls into the public domain,” it said.’

One would think common sense would mean that without the work by British photographer David Slater, there would have been no photograph. That his travel, equipment preparations and interaction with the animals was ‘substantial contribution’.

I wonder, could this become a significant argument in the future of copyright and access to material in the public domain?  Because the argument came down NOT to whether a monkey can own copyright, but whether there was any human in which copyright was vested.



Photography is changing. Increasingly technology is being used to take pictures. If photographic copyright depends on human ownership, I wonder if the way is opened for claims to creative images produced by drone or other forms of AI? I don’t know, and copyright law, is best left to experts but I’d like to ask the questions I have. I’ve read UK and US legislation, around ownership, and around use of computers, but it could appear to an ordinary lay eye, that technology is evolving faster than the laws to govern it. Users and uses growing in hobby and commercial markets perhaps even more so.

In UK legislation:

“In this Part “author”, in relation to a work, means the person who creates it.”

“In the case of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work which is computer-generated, the author shall be taken to be the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work are undertaken.” [Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, Section 9]

It is easy to see how the macaque can slip through in UK law here, as it is not computer generated. And in the US non-human is clearly defined and excluded. But my question is  how do you define computer-generated? At what point does copyright depend on autonomy or on arrangements by human-intervention?

Remember, in the US, 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.” (p 55)

“Katsu pilots the drone remotely, but every movement is translated through the machine’s need to keep itself aloft and it adapts his directions.”

Where do you draw the line?

Why does it matter today at all?

It matters because copyright law is a gatekeeper and gateway. It makes it commercially viable for creators to produce and make work available to others. It defines responsibilities. One question I ask, is that if it’s no longer worth it, will we be worse off for not having the work they may have otherwise produced?

The market for work produced by or via drone,  is just becoming to hint at becoming mainstream.

The use of drones in photography, for example in hard to reach situations in useful functions like flood mapping will be of great service. Other uses in sports such as alpine skiing, canoeing, or extreme sports is only likely to increase by amateur, professional and commercial users. Stick a go-pro on the drone and it can get footage from places without the need for an accompanying person.

What questions might it raise for artists & creators today?

Specifically on art and copyright:  will this ruling affect what types of images are worth taking? Will it make some work non-commercially viable, or their value determined by the channels of distribution rather than creator? Will this Wikimedia ruling affect the balance of power between creator and  commercial channel providers, in terms of ownership and distribution? I believe it rather serves to highlight where the balance is already.

Have we lessons learned from the music and book industry that apply here? (Clue: they both start with vowels and control distribution.)

Will the decision now go to a UK court and become a clarified legal position?

David Slater reportedly faces an estimated £10,000 legal bill to take the matter to court, said the Telegraph. At very best, this situation  is disrespectful to him and leaves a bitter aftermath, in the question of the power between artist and distributor.

At worst, we could be on the cusp of being left behind in a brave new world of ownership and control of art and knowledge. A world in which actions may be taken through our technology, the product of which no human is deemed to have ownership.

So how does that affect responsibility?

If it has been legally defined, that there is no human copyright ownership for the product of the action by something non-human, where do you draw the line for human responsibility? Am I not responsible for the actions of anything non-human I own? If an animal I own, creates a road traffic accident, am I responsible for its actions? If so, then why not for artwork it creates? If there are differences, why are there differences, and where does the line of responsibility get defined and by whom?

Where are the boundaries of responsibility if we start to distinguish in law between ownership of the result of a task a human set up, but did not carry out? David Slater enabled everything for the photograph to be taken, but did not press the shutter.

I ask: “is the boundary of responsibility undermined by weakening the boundaries of ownership and definition of autonomy of action?”

I believe copyright, ownership, responsibility and non-human authorship is about more than this man vs macaque debate. Will we leave it at that and learn no more from this? If so, then the real monkey is definitely not the one in the picture.

What about considering wider impacts?

In broader context, I believe the public should be asking questions to stay ahead of the game in terms of all legal rulings, and consider carefully the idea of non-human creation and ownership. We should  ensure that both State and commercial uses of drone are not set in place, from which we need to play catch up later. We should be driving the thinking to help shape the society we want to see, and shape the expectations of commercial and State use of drone technology.

What of the drones we cannot see, never hear and yet seem to be supported by our Governments? State surveillance piggybacks commercial infrastructures and tools in other fields, such as communications and social media. We should stay ahead of how drones are increasingly used commercially (as in Amazon pilot news) and we should demand much greater transparency of the existing drone use in our name, in security, surveillance and weaponry. [ added 29 Aug 2014 > also see BT case in CW investigation].

Who controls government decisions and the ethics of drone or robot use? In all of these questions, it comes down to – who’s in a position of power? With power, comes responsibility.

The ethics in use in war zones and in other military action, seen and unseen, is also something we should be asking to understand. To date, much of the public dismisses drone use as something which happens somewhere else and nothing to do with us.

But these decisions do affect what is done in the name of our country and that does indirectly, reflect on us, as its citizens.  These decisions will shape the future commercial uses which will affect us as direct consumers, or as indirect recipients of their impacts on wider society.

There’s lots to think about, as drones develop into tools of art and applications in daily life. I know little of the legal aspects, what has been done already or is being considered today, or what will be in future. I just know, I have lots of questions as an everyday parent, considering what kind of society I hope my children, our future adult citizens, will inherit.  Where do I ask to find out?

My questions are not so much about the technology or law of it, at all. They come down to its ethics, fairness & how this will shape the future.  As a mother, that is the responsibility I bear for my children.

Will we see drones soon in ordinary life or in an everyday future?

In this Wired article, Karl VanHemert states part of Katsu’s aim with the drone is simply to raise questions about the transformative effect the machines might have on art. He plans for it to be Open Source soon. Some argue that tagging is not art, but vandalism. You can see it in action via Motherboard’s video on YouTube here. Suggesting property marking will become a blight on society, you can ask what purpose does it serve? Others suggest drones could be used precisely to paint over graffiti and be of practical uses.

In Scotland it is a well known joke,  that once the painters have finished repainting from one side of the Forth Road Bridge to the other, it’s time for them to start again. Perhaps, those days are over?

Will we see them soon in everyday occupations, and will it make a difference to the average citizen? In commercial service, the mundane estate agent [no offence to those who are, you may be 007 or M in your spare time I know] is reported to be one of the commercial market sectors looking at applications of the photographic potential. It could replace cameras on long poles.

“Unmanned drones can be used for a range of tasks including surveying repairs and capturing particularly good views from unusual angles. ” [Skip Walker,]

These uses are regulated in the UK and must have permission from the CAA.

So far though, I wonder if anyone I’ve met flying a hobby drone with camera over our heads (veering wildly between tent pitches, and enthralling us all, watching it watching us) has requested permission as in point 2?

Regulation will no doubt become widely argued for and against in the public security and privacy debate, rightly or wrongly. With associated risks and benefits, they have the potential to be of public service, entertainment and have uses which we have not yet seen.  How far off is the jedi training remote game? How far off is the security training remote, which is not a game? How is it to be governed?

I have a niggling feeling that as long as State use of drones is less than fully transparent, the Government will not be in a rush to open the debate on the private and commercial uses.

Where does that leave my questions for my kids’ future?

Where is the future boundary in their use and who will set it?

The ethics of this ‘thinking’ technology in these everyday places must be considered today, because tomorrow you may walk into a retirement home and find a robot playing chess with your relative. How would you feel about the same robot, running their bath?

Have you met Bob – the G4S robot in Birmingham – yet?

“While ‘Bob’ carries out his duties, he will also be gathering information about his surroundings and learning about how the environment changes over time”

“A similar robot, called ‘Werner’, will be deployed in a care home environment in Austria.”

How about robots in the home, which can read and ‘learn’ from your emotions?

I think this seemingly silly monkey-selfie case, though clearly anything but for the livelihood of David Slater, should raise a whole raft of questions, that ordinary folk like me should be asking of our experts and politicians.  Perhaps I am wrong, and the non-human author as animal and non-human author as machine are clearly distinct and laid out already in legislation. But as the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices [open for comment see footnote 2] decision shows, at minimum the macaque-selfie shoot, is not yet done in its repercussions. It goes beyond authorship.

Who decides what is creative input and intervention vs automatic or autonomous action? Where do you draw the line at non-human? Does Bob – the G4S robot in Birmingham – count?

We may be far off yet, from AI that is legally considered ‘making its own decisions’, but when we get to the point where the owner of the equipment used has no influence, no intervention, of what, when or where an image is shot, will we be at the point where there is, no human author? Will we be at the point where there is no owner responsible for the action?

Especially, if in the words of Katsu,

“Eventually…the drone will develop a creative mind of its own.”

What may that mean for the responsibilities of drones & robots as security patrols, or as care workers? Is the boundary of responsibility undermined by weakening the boundaries of copyright, of ownership and autonomy of action?

If so, photographs being shot, without a legally responsible owner, is the least of my worries.


[1] Significant files ref:  Compendium of US Copyright Office practices – 3rd edition > full version:

[2] Members of the public may provide feedback on the Compendium at any time before or after the Third Edition goes into effect. See for more information.



“You just put your lips together and blow.” RIP Lauren Bacall

Film fans around the world will feel another loss today, as the death of Lauren Bacall was announced.

The Huffington Post:

“Lauren Bacall, one of the last stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, has died. [..}

… it was for her four films alongside Humphrey Bogart for which she will be best remembered.

“Bacall married Bogart in 1945, the couple going on to have two children, a son and a daughter. The pair remained together until his death in 1957. After Bogart’s death, Bacall married actor Jason Robards Jr, to whom she had a further son.”

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love classic films. I enjoy their pace, artistry and use of language which is often so different in contemporary film making. I am a fan of the forties style. I also love the audacity and spirit of fun which is portrayed in that era of Hollywood leading ladies.

Lauren Bacall’s screen glamour and quintessential attitude will forever be immortalised in lines from To Have and Have Not, the film in which she met Bogart.

“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”

The idea of a woman capable of something a man was not or that she could be his equal, was slightly tongue in cheek, but in fact a critical component of the development in society at the time. In the Second World War, notions of what women could and could not do were tossed aside, as women whether in the workplace in manufacturing or agriculture, replaced their men at war. Clothes and looks, and attitudes to sexuality and marriage, were changing. Post-war there was turmoil as roles were realigned. Some of this was reflected in film of the era, women were often dutiful housewives or dangerous femmes fatales. Bacall straddled both in real life and on screen.

Attitudes to women’s role in society and post-suffragism politics were changing. Bacall played an active role here. During the late 1940s, together with Bogart and others, she set up the Committee for the First Amendment. Though widely noted as naive, it was an attempt to stand up to the attacks on Hollywood by the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), to defend free speech and political rights.  Much as one would see the Blacklist thirty years later portrayed in The Way We Were [1973] by Barbra Streisand.

Lauren Bacall saw much change in views towards women in society in her lifetime. But that passing line, in her breakthrough film points to one small, insignificant thing which does not seem that much changed, then or now. I find it can still be seen as mildly inappropriate or surprising by some today. A woman whistling in public. Not a wolf whistle, diet-soda-would-be-proud-at-that-misfired-act-of-equality style whistle. But a tune. A rip roaring rousing melody.

Some of the most simple things in life, bring the most pleasure.

Today it is rare that I meet another women who likes to whistle, at all, never mind as much as I do. When in towns in pedestrian underpasses, in deserted London Underground tunnels or in the car. Wherever I can get a good acoustic. But occasionally I’ll forget to stop if someone should unexpectedly stumble into the soundwaves. And quizzical glances, little smiles, half comments reveal, it’s maybe a little less usual. But perhaps we should celebrate simplicity more often. It’s fun to whistle, as it is to sing. And perhaps it’s OK to be a little different, a characteristic Director Howard Hawkes who discovered Bacall, sought out and strove to preserve.

It was her film acting which made her name and found her leading man in all senses. For Lauren Bacall, Bogart was the love of her life. My favourite of their films, The Big Sleep, will no doubt be the source of headlines today.

She worked on Broadway in musicals, gaining Tony Awards for Applause in 1970 and Woman of the Year in 1981 but it was her performance in the film, the The Mirror Has Two Faces which earned her a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination. In 2009 she received an Honorary Oscar “in recognition of her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures.”

Amongst her own achievements, it may be she will be best remembered for what she shared together in the classic black and white era with Bogart, part of the glamorous couple. She hoped that she would be remembered more for herself.  For me,  she was unique, distinct and different in film noir. It’s her independent, grown up sassiness for which I’ll remember her on screen, and the glimpses into her strength of character I admired in real life.
“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”

I won’t be unoriginal – RIP Robin Williams

The boat painting in the film Good Will Hunting, by the Director, Gus Van Sant








From The Huffington Post:

“Beloved actor Robin Williams was found dead on Monday, police reported. He was 63.

According to his publicist, Williams had been battling severe depression.” (Huffington Post, August 11th)

As a teen, we’d all seen Dead Poet’s Society in which he played inspirational teacher, John Keating. We didn’t just watch it. We felt it. “Oh Captain, my Captain.” It was a film which allowed us as teens to discuss suicide. He taught us something of self expression, through fiction. He inspired us to indeed, seize the day. Carpe Diem. We felt his awkward authenticity. Or perhaps, his real-life authentic awkwardness. He had to manage his mental health publicly. There were occasions when you could see through the exterior, and see how hard that was.

One of my favourite of his films, is Good Will Hunting. Whilst cliched fiction, I have always enjoyed the park scene, in response to the boat painting discussion in which Will (Matt Damon) disrespectfully hits raw notes in Sean’s (the role played by Williams ) life. Matt Damon’s character hits out at criticism of his chosen path in life and avoiding the expectations of others. He counters, “At least I won’t be unoriginal.”  That is perhaps a comic’s greatest fear.

Whilst playing a psychologist, and asking his client to open up, Williams manages to do the same for himself on the screen. He somehow touches a genuineness in that role, perhaps revealing an ability for self-examination which not all of us possess. Whilst playing a character, I believe in that role we see much of what it meant to him being authentic as an actor and as a human being. He discusses the value and need we have of revealing who we really are. The importance of being oneself. And the grit of authentic experience. Comics are famous for being less than happy on the inside. Extrovert exteriors can be used to mask the inner storms and insecure introvert.

We, Joe Public outsiders, will never know the real Robin Williams, but I believe this WTF radio interview with Marc Maron captured some of the authentic him, from 2010.

It comes with a ‘bad language’ warning if the title doesn’t give it away (mainly at the start): WTF interview April 26, 2010.

Mark gets Robin talking about playing the early days Mork, stand up clubs in the seventies and fellow comedians and experiences, learning his art. He talks about fears and authenticity, plagiarism and ‘the celebrity’.

The art of being a comic seems to have been fraught with fear of failure and fear of feelings, but a need to use them to engage with an audience. “What do you do with the anger? What do you do with the fear? ” He openly agrees with the interviewer, ”Big Time”. But he also shares how he deals with them. He shares his optimism on second chances, on alcoholism and heart surgery. He talks about divorce and living ‘in a different game as two units’, and how well his family manages it. They talk about sharing insecurities with the audience, and where they draw the line between sentiment and overstepping the mark, looking for approval from the audience. Effectively wanting to know from them, the universal question which makes the world go round, “do you love me?”

Talking about therapy they close by talking with humour, he puts the whole subject of dying over in the WTF category. He reveals through comic interpretation, discussion with his conscience. There is a fine boundary between his comedy humour and revealing his innermost thoughts. There may be many wondering about that interview today.

He was loved, popular with close colleagues and the wider worldwide audience. He will be missed. Most of all by his family, friends and those he knew, who should grieve in privacy. Let’s hope curiosity in the celebrity will permit them that.

His acting has been part of my life since I can remember watching films, and he touched the lives of many he will never know. My kids have laughed raucously watching him as Professor Brainard in Flubber only this week, in the summer holidays.

He was the deep Sean McGuire. He was the humorous DJ, Adrian Cronauer. He was the desperate & committed parent in Mrs. Doubtfire. He was engaged John Keating. He was the Fisher King. He enjoyed exploring dark traits in characters such as in the role of photo shop technician-turned-stalker in One Hour Photo. At the heart of each one was a glimpse into a conflicted character.

He was so much more. He was original. He was it seems, the very complex, Robin Williams.

Thank you, and Good Night.


Added Aug 13th: I believe there is a need for society to be able to talk about suicide, as there was when it was raised through Dead Poet’s Society. But how we do it, still needs sensitivity and adjustment.  

The Samaritans called for extra care of reporting after news stories on August 13th breached guidelines. Their number: 08457 90 90 90

Happy [belated] Birthday Kafka

Yesterday, July 3rd, was Kafka’s birthday. I started to write about him, and fell asleep with a book in my hand, waking in Kafkaesque style this morning not knowing where I was or why. But thank goodness, I did not wake up as a beetle. [1]

The overly used descriptor Kafkaesque has more recently come to take  on a generic meaning, and his name  associated with a dark view of the state and surveillance. [2]  I wonder what he would have made of it?

The surveillance state is more contemporary than ever in mainstream thought, since Snowden, a year ago. We can look at The Trial, in which the protagonist is accused of an unknown crime, under assumed guilt and secrecy surrounding the process and reflect on the latest moves towards a secret court in the UK. In ‘The Great Wall of China‘ Kafka considered both points of the debate how to protect the People from outsiders, the Barbarians. As we see security at airports tightened today against an invisible threat, its central theme as valid today as in the 1920s, exploring the authority’s exploitation of fear and uncertainty over what constitutes a nation and what should be defended. In Das Schloss ‘the Castle‘ the authorities are drowning in documents, but cannot find the one which is relevant to the accused. Kafka questions the purpose of massive data gathering when the authorities appear not use the documents they collect. Both the latter stories mentioned in Alan Greenblatt’s article, on the Surveillance Society. [3]

His work is perhaps more relevant than ever.

As a Germanist, his work featured strongly in my studies, but I appreciate it more now, and am currently working on a project which is based in the time of his life (1883 -1924) and into the second world war.

It was both a fascinating and demanding time and place to live.

He was a German speaker living in what is now, the Czech Republic. The issues of identity and belonging are everyday ones for the residents like him, in a country whose borders were fluid and changing. Whose government switched the state language between Czech and German, and issued new passports in his lifetime, more than once, and in state institutions in which it was dictated how many employees should be of which – Czech or German – ethic origin. It is little spoken of today, but the fifty years before WWII set the stage for the struggle of ethnicity and its horrific consequence for millions of ordinary citizens in post war Czechoslovakia and its neighbours. The resulting forced migrations [4] of 3 million ethnic Germans from the Sudetenland alone, and the deaths of a disputed number in the region of half a million, and up to two million more who disappeared, is a little talked of consequence of the war and its preceding years.

He died before this, in 1924. His best known works are those in which the State, power, identity and emotional struggles are entwined in dark and often unexpected situations.

His work is ever popular, and his many themes, quotes and associated artwork are widely used. His concepts contemporary.

He was reportedly an avid reader, and advocated reading books which challenge:

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?”  

– from a letter to Oskar Pollak (January 27, 1904)

He inspires me to keep writing mine.



Artwork from the Schocken/Pantheon Kafka library, cover designer Peter Mendelsund

[1] Metamorphasis: – one of Kafka’s best known works

[2] Salon’s view of the NSA’s Internet surveillance program and how it uses Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.

[3] Alan Greenblatt article, Our Surveillance Society – What Orwell and Kafka might say –  June 2013

[4] Forced migrations of ethnic Germans in post WWII