Educators are scrambling to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic. Many have been instructed to work from home and to convert face-to-face classes to remote instruction. They are trying to record lectures and PowerPoint slides, but are struggling with the videography and related technology. In an effort to help, I’m listing below a series of video tutorials that might be useful.
In 1970, the crew of Apollo 13 made it to the moon but never completed their mission to land on the surface because of an explosion that damaged their craft. To get the astronauts safely home, NASA routed them around the dark side of the moon for a slingshot trajectory back to Earth. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13, NASA has used video data captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft during this ill-fated trip to recreate spectacular views (at 4K) of the lunar surface.
When I first began making videos in 2008 about my scientific research (published on the U.S. Geological Survey’s YouTube Channel), my objective was to more widely report the findings of my projects and to help advertise my journal articles. For example, the video “Chasing the Mud” was designed to explain how I and colleagues studied the effects of the historic 2011 Mississippi River flood and to summarize the results of our paper published in Nature Geoscience. When I was interviewed by a news agency about the paper, I provided the link to the video, which the journalist then embedded in the news article. The video, which has had almost 12,000 views, thus served to augment the academic article in a format that was more accessible to the general public.
However, beyond reporting the results of our study, that video also featured the unique wetlands we visited during our sampling surveys and showed how we used a helicopter to access remote study sites in the Mississippi River Delta Complex. In later videos, such as this one about a study conducted in mangrove forests in Belize, I often emphasized my experiences doing fieldwork and the methods required. In other words, these videos showed the viewer how science gets done and some of the interesting places where scientists work.
Since those early videos, I’ve tried to encourage colleagues to make videos highlighting interesting aspects of their work and to avoid boring the viewer with a lot of data. Another point is that you can make a video about your work even before the final results are in or before you publish the paper. For example, you can make a video about why your research is important to society, to describe your field of research, obstacles you’ve overcome, your unique research setting or methods, or to overturn stereotypes about scientists. All such videos can be done without research results and are likely to be more interesting to the average viewer.
A recent essay and video illustrate my point nicely. Adrian Smith, who studies ants, filmed himself being bitten. In the video (see below), he basically answered the question as to whether it would hurt to be bitten by a trap-jaw ant, which can shut its jaws “faster than almost any other recorded animal movement”. In the essay, Smith said that this experience changed his outlook on communicating science. He realized that, by mainly focusing on conveying the results of scientific endeavors, he had missed opportunities to tell more compelling stories about his experiences doing science. By emphasizing a fascinating observation or answering a question that viewers might have, it’s possible to reach a wider audience and interest them in your research topic. His video below shows an example of this approach.
You, too, can take advantage of this approach and make a video about an interesting or inspiring aspect of your scientific research. Below, I repeat a list of suggested topics to use as the focus of a brief video.
- Share your joy about doing science.
- Describe what you like most about being a scientist or your particular science discipline.
- Talk about a challenge that you faced and how you overcame it.
- Describe a failure and what you learned from it.
- Show where you work (laboratory or field) and explain what you like about it.
- Demonstrate your passion for your scientific topic and why you think it is important.
- Describe how your curiosity led you to a discovery.
- Talk about scientific integrity and how you strive to avoid bias.
- Point out the challenge of finding sufficient funding to conduct your research.
- Show how your research is helping a local community cope with a health or environmental issue.
- Have citizens, resource managers, farmers, doctors, or other end users of science information describe the importance of your research to them.
Many successful videographers carefully plan their projects before filming. Writing a script can help you organize your video prior to filming, avoid time-wasting digressions, and select appropriate language for this medium. In a new video tutorial, I discuss the difference between writing text meant to be read and that meant to be spoken and provide a series of suggestions for preparing a script for a video.
By the way, many of the tips I cover in this tutorial apply to preparation of material for podcasts and oral presentations at conferences.
A few years ago, a crested black macaque named Naruto apparently took a selfie using a wildlife photographer’s camera. The photographer, David Slater, wishing to get better close-up photos of a group of macaques in Indonesia, set up his camera on a tripod and attached a cable and button that when pressed would trigger the camera shutter. He hoped that the monkeys would be curious enough to move closer to the camera, stare at their reflection in the lens, and press the button.
In fact, the macaques were quite cooperative, especially Naruto, who snapped several selfies. One of the photos was particularly eye catching—mainly because of the self-aware and somewhat goofy expression on Naruto’s face. Slater sent the photo along with some others to his agent who shared them with various news outlets. The photo went viral.
Then something really crazy happened.
Wikipedia Claims Monkey Image Is in the Public Domain
Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, used the photo of Naruto grinning at the camera, to illustrate an article about the Celebes crested macaque (aka crested black macaque). However, Slater is not attributed as the creator and copyright holder. Instead, the description of the photo on Wikimedia says, “Self-portrait of a female Celebes crested macaque (Macaca nigra) in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, who had picked up photographer David Slater’s camera and photographed herself with it.” Wikipedia claims that the image is in the public domain because the macaque who snapped the photo is a “non-human” creator”, i.e., not a legal person.
Slater, on the other hand, believes that the photo resulted from his creative choices (choosing the macaque group, setting the camera on a tripod, adjusting the camera settings for the desired image, adding the remote trigger, etc.), thus making him the rightful copyright holder. Some legal experts (in the UK where Slater lives) think that his actions are more important than “the mere physical act of pressing a button” in deciding who has copyright ownership.
In spite of Slater’s objections, Wikipedia refused to take down the photo of Naruto. I’m not reproducing the photo of Naruto here because I think Slater is the rightful owner, and I don’t have permission to use it (I tried to contact him to get permission, but never got a reply). You can see the image at Slater’s website.
But there’s more to the Naruto story.
PETA Sues for Copyright Infringement
In 2015, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) entered the fray by suing Slater for copyright infringement in a California court on behalf of Naruto. PETA’s claim was that the photo “resulted from a series of purposeful and voluntary actions by Naruto, unaided by Mr. Slater, resulting in original works of authorship not by Mr. Slater, but by Naruto”. PETA was saying, in other words, that Slater’s use of the photo of Naruto, on his website and in a book, infringed on the rights of the monkey.
The judge in the case dismissed the suit because animals do not have standing in a court of law and thus cannot sue for copyright infringement. PETA appealed. During the appeal proceedings, Slater and PETA reached a settlement (exact terms unknown). In a joint statement PETA and David Slater apparently agreed that nonhuman animals have rights. Both are concerned about animal rights, and the so-called monkey selfie potentially advances the argument that animals have certain rights. According to the PETA website, Slater agreed to donate 25% of revenues from the photo to the sanctuary where Naruto lives. On David Slater’s website, the amount stated is 10% going towards a “monkey conservation project in Sulawesi”.
In 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rendered an opinion upholding the previous court’s decision to dismiss claims brought by a monkey of copyright infringement. The opinion blasted PETA saying, “PETA’s real motivation in this case was to advance its own interests, not Naruto’s …”.
Works that Lack Human Authorship
What does the law say about what creative works may be copyrighted and who may claim copyright?
In the U.S., copyright law (see The Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices: Chapter 300) says that to qualify as a work of authorship, it must be created by a human. In fact, the Compendium specifically mentions the monkey example in its description of “works that lack human authorship”:
“… the Copyright Act protects ‘original works of authorship.’ 17 U.S.C. § 102(a) (emphasis added). To qualify as a work of ‘authorship’ a work must be created by a human being … Works that do not satisfy this requirement are not copyrightable.
“The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants. Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings, although the Office may register a work where the application or the deposit copy(ies) state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit.
- A photograph taken by a monkey.
- A mural painted by an elephant.
- A claim based on the appearance of actual animal skin.
- A claim based on driftwood that has been shaped and smoothed by the ocean.
- A claim based on cut marks, defects, and other qualities found in natural stone.
- An application for a song naming the Holy Spirit as the author of the work.
“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.”
So in the U.S. at least, an animal cannot be the author of a creative work, and the PETA suit would never have succeeded because the U.S. Copyright Office had already said that animals cannot hold copyright. But what about Wikipedia’s claim that the photo of Naruto is in the public domain?
You may be thinking at this point about situations in which the scientist videographer may find themselves challenged as the creator and copyright owner of a video. For example, wildlife camera traps are triggered by the movements of animals. Could someone claim that the resultant photo or video is the creative property of the animal or is in the public domain because the animal triggered the photo or video?
According to the U.S. copyright law, an author is “the creator of the original expression in a work” (unless the author transfers the copyright to another person or entity such as a publisher). To be copyrightable, the work must be created by a human and also reflect a “degree of creativity”, among other requirements. Thus, the monkey, a non-human, is automatically disqualified as the creator of a copyrightable work. But can the monkey be the creator of the image, i.e., the photographer?
The Wikipedia description of the image of Naruto says that the macaque “picked up photographer David Slater’s camera and photographed herself “. However, Slater’s description (in an interview on This American Life, Episode 631) has the camera set up on a tripod with a remote shutter trigger attached by a cable. The macaques were attracted to the trigger button, picking it up and putting it in their mouths, and eventually pressing it. The sounds of the shutter seemed to further attract the macaques attention and caused them to look into the camera lens. In other words, the monkey did not pick up the camera, look into the lens, smile, and snap the picture. Also, in this case, it’s clear that a human created the conditions whereby the photo was taken. So at a minimum, a human was involved in capturing the image and, I would argue, was the participant wholly responsible for the creative aspect of the photo. The macaque merely participated by mugging for the camera and pressing the button that triggered the shot.
Part of the confusion surrounding the monkey photo is because of its designation as a “selfie”, which implies that the monkey knew it was snapping a photo of itself. Although the macaques may have recognized themselves in their reflections in the camera lens, they were likely unaware that their image was being recorded or that pressing a button caused that recording. That is true of any audiovisual recording of nonhuman animals. A good example is a photo or video captured by a camera trap in which a motion-activated camera is positioned by a human to capture images of animals in a particular location during a particular period of time. The movement of animals triggers the camera to record images, but the animals are unaware of what’s happening. Human action is also necessary to download and process the resultant film. No one could reasonably argue that animals recorded in this way were the photographers. Wikipedia seems to agree, since their entry on camera traps features several examples of camera trap images, all of which are attributed to human photographers who were not even present at the time the images were recorded.
The images captured by Slater’s camera setup in Indonesia are analogous to images taken with camera traps. The macaques triggered Slater’s camera by playing with the button he installed but were unaware that their actions caused a visual recording. And unlike the situation with camera traps, Slater was present and interacting with the subjects of his photography as well as with the camera (to adjust settings).
The question that remains unanswered is whether actions by a human photographer to plan and set up a shot legally qualifies them as the author of the resultant photo, even if the recording is triggered by the animal’s actions.