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Monkey’s selfie, attempting suicide and suing for not being rescued fast enough: Some odd cases of the year

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By SEKOU OWINO
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This is the time of the year when people reflect on the year that is past. In so doing, there are thoughts of highlights of different kinds. Some media outlets even name their supposed person of the year. I join this charade by trying to recount the cases that defined the year for me by their absurdity or sheer value from a humour point of view.

One case of interest that was decided this year has been that between People Against Ethical treatment of Animals (PETA) and a professional photographer known as David Slater. In 2011, Mr Salter went on an assignment in Indonesia. While there, a monkey by the name Naruto took selfies of itself using the photographer’s camera. On his return to the USA, Mr Slater used the photos taken by the monkey in a book he published.

In 2015, PETA sued Mr Salter on behalf of the monkey. PETA alleged that the publication of the monkey’s photos in the book infringed on the Monkey’s copyright as the one who took the photos. In 2016, a district judge dismissed PETA’s claim and the matter went on appeal. Sometime this year, the ninth circuit of the US Court of Appeals again dismissed the case. The Appeal court held that the monkey could not have a right to property in the photographs. In short, they held that only humans had a right to copyright under the US copyright law.

But animals were not always losers in the law this year. Journalists often say that it is no news when a dog bites a man. But the converse is the more newsworthy story. In January, a man was charged with assaulting a dog. The assault charge was based on the fact that the accused bit a police dog while trying to resist arrest. The dog bit back more ferociously before the man was tasered and arrested. The journalists must have found their perfect story in the incident which occurred in the town of Boscawen in New Hampshire. The head of the police department in that town put it thus: “If you get into a biting competition with a police dog, you will not win. I am watching the case to see whether the accused will win the case of the dog-bite after losing the dogfight!”

Remaining on the issue of animals, a poacher in Missouri got more than he could handle or watch. Mr David Berry Junior, his father and two brothers were charged with the offence of poaching deer. Upon conviction, the men were fined a total of $51,000. But in the case of Mr David Berry Jr., that was not enough: The judge sentenced him to a prison term of 12 months. In addition, he was to watch a pro-wildlife conservation movie by the title Bambi at least once a month for the duration of his prison sentence. The court further ordered that the first viewing must be conducted by December 23, 2018. While most people consider watching movies a recreational activity, David Berry Jr. will find it a correctional obligation rather than recreational discretion.

Another man who may soon find himself in a correctional facility and free boarding is one Jonathan Crenshaw. Mr Crenshaw is homeless and without arms but somehow found himself charged with the offence of stabbing a person with a pair of scissors using his legs. Despite being a person with disability, the accused is very capable in the use of his legs for artful and hurtful purposes. It was said that Mr Crenshaw is well-known in Florida as a street artist who uses his feet to paint — and other things obviously. Police records reveal that despite being without arms, Mr Crenshaw keeps his legs busy. He has had frequent run-ins with the Police and was last convicted and jailed in 2014 for battery of a police officer. This previous stint in prison might explain why he prefers being in the streets than enjoying free board in prison and was granted bond of $7,500, to go back to the streets!

Another case of disability is that of Donald Nixon, who is legally blind. In November, he filed a case against the renowned Playboy magazine alleging it violating his right to information. The claimant’s contention is that the magazine’s website does not integrate with his screen reading software which allows him to read the text with a speech synthesizer or Braille display for person with a visionary disability like himself. His claim is based on a law in the USA known as the American with Disabilities Act which requires that publishers endeavour to make their publications accessible to person with different kinds of disabilities so as not to discriminate against them. Mr Nixon claims that he cannot enjoy the centrefolds of the magazine because of the lack of a text equivalent of a non — text element in the publications. The question on most people’s mind would be how Braille would be applied to some of the prurient nude photographs for which the magazine was previously known. One of the issues in this case will be that Mr Nixon seems to be an indefatigable litigant in light of reports that he has previously filed over forty law suits against other organisations for violations of the said law.

While the courts have held in the case of Naruto that animals do not have intellectual property rights, humans continue to exert them in interesting ways. Alfonso Ribiero, an actor in the famous television comedy programme Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and one Russell Horning (known as Backpack Kid) have sued a video game producer Fortnite for breach of copyright of their dancing styles. In the game which may be downloaded online, players may buy a dance move known as ‘Emote’ or win it as a reward while playing the game.

In the case of Alfonso Ribiero, the claim is that while acting in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air television programme, he invented a dance with some specific moves known as ‘Carlton Dance’ which featured swinging arms and hips from side to side in a funny distinct manner. His claim is that in 2018, Fortnite released a game called ‘fresh Emote’ in which had a character similar to Mr Ribiero’s likeness and performing the Carlton dance which infringed on his copyright in the dance.

Russell Horning, aged 16, has brought a similar suit in respect of a dance he performed in the ‘Saturday Night Live’ show in 2016 and which came to be known as ‘The Floss’ and is associated with him. He said that an image performing the flossing dance has also been included in the game without his permission or credit to him.

As funny as this might be, the cases cannot be said to be threadbare: US copyright law protects dancing if the dancing is original and is recorded in the copyright claimer in video form. While the cases have not been decided, it might appear that the dancing styles may be a new professional realm for creatives.

Then there are the purely absurd. One of them is the case of a man who sued the police in Virginia, USA, for rescuing him from drowning while he tried to commit suicide by drowning himself. In a lawsuit filed in Virginia earlier this year, the claimant said that the police left him underwater for about two minutes after he had submerged himself in the pool and wants the police officers who were present at the time of the mishap to pay the medical bills he incurred as a result of the self-harming attempt. In his court papers, the claimant says that the police are trained to help people in distress and should have acted immediately to prevent him from jumping into the pool, having tried to jump in twice before. The issue for the court in the lawsuit will be whether the police should be held liable for not acting quickly enough to save the life of someone who put himself in mortal danger.

While we await judgment on the matter of putting oneself at peril and then expecting others to save you, one man in the Netherlands got a quick answer to a vexatious law suit. Mr Emile Ratelband is an entrepreneur aged 69. He filed a law suit seeking an order to change his age form 69 years to 49 years. His reason for this was that his doctor had informed him that he had the body of a 45-year-old and that the age was a limitation to his changes in a dating app, Tinder, following his realisation that possible mates preferred younger persons.

It is said that men rarely tell the truth about their wage. But Mr Ratelband was so serious about changing his age that he offered to forfeit his wage in the form of a pension just so that he could lawfully get to change his age. While confirming that Mr Ratelband is at liberty to feel younger than his real age, the court ruled that amending his age in law would result in several undesirable legal and societal implications which the court could not countenance.

The court seemed to be saying, age is not just a number.

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