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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 nothing much about copyright really. But I’m thinking my lay thoughts, out loud.

In the first instance, if drones are used for creating something, 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.

copyright

 

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. But they come down to its ethics, fairness & how this will shape the future.

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, stroudnewsandjournal.co.uk]

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?

But 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.

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[1] Significant files ref: http://infojustice.org/archives/33164  Compendium of US Copyright Office practices – 3rd edition > full version: http://copyright.gov/comp3/docs/compendium-full.pdf

[2] Members of the public may provide feedback on the Compendium at any time before or after the Third Edition goes into effect. See www.copyright.gov/comp3/ for more information.

 

 

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