Unless you are Luddite or live in a cave (without Internet access), you know that cat videos are wildly popular.
In fact, by some estimates, fifteen percent of all web traffic is connected to cats, including this one where one co-author’s cats, Fitzy the Orange and Silvy, demonstrate their latest toy. Fitzy & Silvy Video.
Given the millions of cat videos online, how many copyright opinions have courts published where the issue involved a cat video? Zero. How can this be?
Cat videos can be “commercial”
Although many cat videos are posted by cat owners who simply want to share their cats’ latest antics, there are certainly commercial aspects to the cat video phenomenon. Perhaps you were one of the 1.8 million people who watched the Lifetime movie “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever,” which included a cameo appearance by Keyboard Cat. Or perhaps you have seen the TV ad for pistachios featuring Keyboard Cat.
While animals can’t register copyrights in videos, their owners can
In the United States, the Copyright Office has stated that it will not register a work produced by an animal. See Compendium of US Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition, § 313.2 (Dec. 22, 2014). This position means that the “monkey selfie” cannot be registered in the US because the monkey took the photograph. Most cat videos, however, are created by the cat’s human owner, so copyright ownership would belong to the videographer, not the feline. This aspect of US copyright registration requirements also illustrates why any company using videos from third parties should obtain copyright assignments and/or releases not only from the “on-screen” actors, but also from the videographers.
The subject matter is often widely appealing and original
Cats tend to create their own original content that can amuse and engage audiences worldwide. Brands should likewise look to create original, engaging content.
On the subject of originality, we note that the increasingly automated environment for detecting potential copyright infringements can occasionally create a false positive, even with respect to cat videos. British newspaper The Guardian recently reported that an hour-long audio-only video of a cat purring was flagged by a video posting site’s algorithm as potentially using a copyrighted song. As a result of the program’s flagging the potential infringement, the video was taken down, the cat’s owner challenged the infringement claim, and music publisher withdrew the automated claim. The lesson here is that including music in a video means that you need to have the rights (or permission) to use the music in a public posting. If the video is taken down for alleged infringement, you can appeal that there is no infringement and that the video should be promptly restored.
Brand owners should also keep in mind what rights they are granting when they post videos online:
- Can a user make copies?
- For commercial purposes?
- Can the sharing site or platform make copies for its own commercial purposes?
- And keep any revenues?
Fifteen percent of all Internet traffic is connected to cats. CBS This Morning (CBS Interactive).
Grumpy Cat Owner Debunks Report Of $99.5 Million Earnings. The Inquisitr News. December 9, 2014.
Compendium of US Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition, § 313.2 (Dec. 22, 2014)
Cevallos, Danny. When a monkey takes a selfie …. CNN.com. Aug. 18, 2014.
Dredge, Stuart. No, that cat purring on YouTube isn’t infringing music copyright. 2015 Guardian News. 12 February 2015.