The Constitution, Law, Rationalizations And Ethics—One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other, I: The University Of Houston Steals A Photo

Two recent cases illustrate how law and even Constitutional law can be perverted toward indefensible ends if compliance is the only objective, and ethics are left out of the equation. The first case comes to us from Texas, University. of Houston System .v.Jim Olive Photography.

Houston photographer Jim Olive  discovered during an online check of his copyrighted works that the  University of Houston had appropriated one of his photographs and was using it extensively in its  web and print promotional materials. It was an overhead, aerial image of the City of Houston at dusk in 2005 that Olive went to great expense and effort  to produce.  He rented a helicopter, hired a pilot, and utilizing special photography equipment, suspended himself from the helicopter with a harness.

The university admired it, and found the shot ideal for its purposes, so it  downloaded the photo from Olive’s stock library, removed the copyright markings, and did not credit him when they used it. Olive sent the school a take-down letter and a bill, and the university refused to pay. Then he sued, but the university responded  that it has sovereign immunity, and can’t be sued, because he isn’t a citizen of Texas. The Eleventh Amendment reads in part,

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

The photographer had no right to sue under the U.S. Constitution unless the school waived its sovereign immunity or the act of using the photograph constituted a “taking” of property, the University’s lawyers  argued. When the trial court sided with Olive, the University appealed.

The Court of Appeals has ruled against Olive, declaring  that the school’s actions wasn’t a “taking.” Not only can’t Oliver sue to be paid for the use of his photograph,  he will have to pay the university’s legal costs.

“It just doesn’t seem fair to me,” says Olive.  I’d say his instinct is accurate, but this is the law: fairness is beside the point. To make the ruling even more disturbing from an ethics perspective, the University has a page on its site directing readers to  report copyright infringements – and also to request permission to use UH intellectual property, like the photograph it stole from Jim Olive,

Nice. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Sick-Bed Ethics Warm-Up, 11/14/18: Ethics Among the Sneezes” (Item #6)

I’m still catching up on Comments of the Day, and they won’t be arriving in strict chronological order. This one comes from Tim LeVier, one of the three longest-running commenters on my two ethics websites, the now off-line (but soon returning) Ethics Scoreboard and Ethics Alarms. Tim was bringing some perspective to the infamous Baraboo High School photo, used by various commentators and pundits to further all sorts of agendas while creating a perhaps permanent stain on the reputations of the participants.

Here is his Comment of the Day on Item #6 in the post, Sick-Bed Ethics Warm-Up, 11/14/18: Ethics Among the Sneezes:

What I wanted to do was give some hard numbers on this. I count 64 distinct individuals that can be seen. If one were to use this photo as an indictment, then you have to look at each person as an individual to see what they’re doing. 32 of the 64 could be said to be doing something that looks like a Hitler salute, but most of them are pretty poor. Some are spot on. Another 12 of the 64 are so poor or different that you couldn’t say they were a Nazi salute, such as fists in the air, bent arms, looks like they’re waving. 20 of the 64 simply can’t be seen, don’t have their arm up, or have the wrong arm up or have both arms up.

So, overall, it’s a 50% gotcha of the 64 boys. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/24/18: Presidents, PETA, Privilege, Penn State And Pedophiles

Good Morning.

It just feels like a gliddy glup gloopy nibby nabby noopy kind of day…

1. Musings on the illness of George H.W. Bush. Perhaps I am over-sensitive, but I found the long segments and speculation on cable news this morning about George H.W. Bush suffering from “broken heart syndrome” sensational, intrusive, and wrong. The man is 93, and he’s suffering from a blood infection. As my Dad said often after his 80th birthday, and eventually proved, when one is 80 or more. you can drop dead at any moment, for any reason. Yes, we all know of long-time married couples of advanced years who perish in close proximity. However, the “broken heart syndrome” is anecdotal, without clinical proof, and, essentially, fake news with a romantic tinge.

[Pointer: valkygirrl]

If vile people like Professor Jarrar will attack Barbara Bush when she dies, imagine what George H.W. Bush has in store. The elder Bush is near the bottom of my Presidential ranking, in the general vicinity of his son, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama but The Ethics Alarms position is that every single President of the United States is owed respect and a debt of gratitude for accepting the overwhelming challenges of the job, and doing, in every case, what he felt was in the best interests of the nation. Before Harry Truman, even taking away the assassinations from the mix, the Presidency was regarded, accurately, as a killing job, with more Presidents than not dying soon after leaving office. That’s not true any  more, but the job is still a terrible physical, emotional and mental burden. The first words out of any American’s mouth when a former President is ailing should be “You have the best wishes of the nation,” and the first words when any former President dies should be “Thank you.”

2.    And this has to do with “collusion” how?  The raid on President Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen revealed that Fox News host Sean Hannity owns millions of dollars worth of real estate across several states, with  links to several shell companies that bought $90 million on 877 residential properties. This is all confidential information, and should never have been jeopardized by the Special Counsel’s effort, coordinated with New York State prosecutors, to gather as much dirt on President Trump as possible—all the better to impeach him with. That this information was leaked to the press indicts the investigation, the process, the judge who allowed the  fruits of the raid unrelated to Trump to be obtained, and the lawyers involved. Of course, the fact that Cohen had these records also rebuts Hannity’s claim, obviously disingenuous from the start, that he wasn’t Cohen’s client, but never mind: Hannity should not have been placed in the position where there was anything to deny.

[Pointer: philk57] Continue reading

From The “Law vs Ethics” Files: PETA Chooses To Harm An Artist On Behalf Of A Monkey Who Couldn’t Care Less, And Judges Think It’s An Amusing Legal Condundrum

“I’m baaaaack!”

When we last heard from  photographer David Slater, the U.S. Copyright Office had rejected his claim that he owned the  copyright for the famous series of selfies presumably taken unintentionally by a Celebes crested macaque.  In 2011,  Slater spent several days following and photographing a troop of macaques in Sulawesi, Indonesia, and the selfies were a lucky bi-product that quickly became a web sensation. Slater had asserted ownership over the photos, and had demanded that various on-line users, such as Wikipedia, either take them down or pay him as the copyright holder. The ruling of the Copyright Office was based on the theory that Slater had not taken the photo, so he was not the creator, and animals couldn’t own copyrights, so the photos were in the public domain.

Pop Ethics Quiz: Would it have been unethical had Slater simply released the photos without revealing that the selfies had been the lucky result of an  accident, snapped by the monkey while it was messing around with his equipment?

About the Copyright Office’s ruling: I’m dubious. Slater owned the equipment, and had the sense to preserve the photos. A decision that if a photo is taken accidentally by a non-human or an act of God, the photographer who owns the equipment gets the copyright would have been fair.  Zapruder owned the film that inadvertently caught President Kennedy having his forehead shot off, and it made him rich. Slater’s claim just goes a step further: Zapruder left the street  to buy a hotdog, put his camera on on a trash can and asked a friend to “watch it,” and a dog turned the camera on, catching the grisly scene. So Zapruder doesn’t own the film anymore? Does that make sense to you?

Well, that was the ruling anyway. Then things got really ridiculous. Slater included the monkey selfies in a book, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)  brought a law suit against Slater on behalf of the monkey,which PETA claims is named Naruto, and asked that PETA be appointed to administer proceeds from the photos for the benefit of Naruto and other crested macaques in the reserve on Sulawesi. So PETA would suddenly be the de facto copyright holder. Continue reading

The Sixth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2014 (Part 2)

Rice and Janay

Ethics Corrupter of the Year

(Awarded to the unethical public figure whose prominence, popularity and success most corrupts the public’s ethical values)

Janay Palmer Rice, beloved punching bag of NFL star Ray Rice, who was caught on camera smooching with her man shortly after being cold-cocked by him in a hotel elevator, married him, and has repeatedly defended her husband, prompting confused female pundits to defend her. She is not only the embodiment of Rationalization #42. The Hillary Inoculation, or “If he/she doesn’t care, why should anyone else?”, she is also a good bet to get some young women killed by giving them a role model who stands for standing by your abusive man with the hard right hook.

Double Standard Of The Year

In a year of double standards, the treatment of soccer star (and accused child abuser) Hope Solo by her sport, feminists, the media and the public takes the prize. The standard, as I understand it, is that big, strong female athletes can beat up smaller, weaker family members with impunity, and it’s no big deal, but when a male athlete does the same, he is scum. Got it.

Uncivil U.S. Official of the Year

Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and the top American diplomat in Europe, was caught saying in a viral Youtube video saying “Fuck the EU.”  Now that’s diplomatic. Of course, she wasn’t fired, because she works for the Obama Administration

The Jesse Jackson Award 

(For the Year’s Worst Amateur Diplomat)

mo_selfie_lg

First Lady Michelle Obama, who helped her husband make the U.S. look weak and ineffectual (he needs no help), by engaging in this ridiculous effort at hashtag diplomacy. Those kidnapped girls were never found, and Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist group that took them, I learned today, just killed a reported 2000 more victims. Time for another sad picture, Michelle!

Most Unethical Sports League

The NFL, last year’s winner, was even more unethical this year, with the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson fiascos, Commissioner Roger Goodell showing no innate instinct for right and wrong and both the league and its teams making up rules and policies according to talk show calls, polls and wet fingers in the air. Meanwhile, it’s still making billions paying young men to lobotomize themselves. What a great sport.

Sports Cheat of the Year

Alex Rodriguez, suspended Yankee star, had denied, denied, denied, threatened to sue Major League Baseball and the union, and insisted that he had not, as an investigation had determined, used performance enhancing drugs supplied by Biogenesis. Then, just as his season-long suspension was lifted, it was revealed that A-Rod had, under oath, admitted using steroids from 2010 to 2012.

Annual Sports Ethics Controversy That Gets Worse Every Year

Steroid cheats (like Rodriquez) and their fitness for admission to Baseball’s Hall of Fame

Unethical Lawyer of the Year

Michael Fine, the Ohio lawyer who allegedly hypnotized female clients in order to sexually molest them.  Runner Up Alexa Van Brunt. She didn’t do anything unethical; she just advocates ethics rules that would eliminate the core of legal ethics, proving that she doesn’t understand her own profession.

Unethical Judge of the Year

judge_mccree

Wade McCree, the handsome devil pictured above (he circulated this selfie), who, presiding over a felony child-support case, conducted a secret sexual relationship with the woman seeking support from the defendant. This was just the latest of his embarrassments.  Runner up: Texas District Judge Jeanine Howard, who handed down a stunningly lenient sentence of probation and 250 hours of community service at a rape crisis center for a man who confessed raping a 14-year old girl at her school.

 

Unethical National Broadcast Journalist Of The Year

CNN’s Carol Costello. She was biased, smug and incompetent all year long, but reached her nadir when she gleefully played a recording of Bristol Palin explaining to police how she had been assaulted, saying to her viewers, “You can thank me later.” She refused to apologize on the air, or to Palin. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Macaque’s Selfie

Macaque

The wonderful photo above has gone viral on the web, and is also causing serious debate among intellectual property lawyers. The weird tale is as follows:

Wildlife photographer David Slater was visiting a national park in North Sulawesi to photograph the wildlife. His subject was a group of crested black macaques, and when he left his camera unattended, the primates took advantage of the opportunity. Apparently attracted by the reflection and the noise the camera made when activated (the implications of the macaques doing this because they were interested in photography are too disturbing to contemplate, so I won’t),  one macaque took hundreds of photos of itself. Most were blurry and out of focus, just like the pictures my dad took, but a few were superb selfies that would have Ellen DeGeneres eating her heart out.

Wikimedia took the clear images off of Slater’s website, adding them to its collection of royalty-free graphic, and sending them all over the web as a result.  Slater now demands that the images be taken down or that he be paid for them. While Wikimedia argues that either the monkey owns the copyright for the photos or nobody does, the photographer claims that being the owner of the camera, and the artist who created the circumstances under which the macaque was inspired to release his inner Richard Avedon, he alone is the owner of the photographs.

As you might expect, copyright law is unclear on the issue of lower primate selfies, an art form that was not anticipated as the law evolved. I don’t care about that: today’s Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is about fairness:

Should Slater have full ownership of the macaque’s creations?

Continue reading