Friday, 30 January 2015

Monkeys, selfies and copyright (and the back of Rod Stewart’s head)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: man meets monkey, monkey steals man’s camera, monkey takes photo of herself, monkey causes international copyright storm that rumbles on for years.

Back in 2011, nature photographer David Slater went to Indonesia to photograph - among other things - the native Crested Black Macaques that live on the island of Celebes. He certainly got some good pictures: one of the mischievous monkeys pinched his camera and seemed to enjoy the sound the shutter made. Several hundred photos later, Slater retrieved his expensive equipment (undamaged but with a pretty full memory card) and found one or two really quite startling and lovely images.

Photo: A crested black macaque - sadly not the contentious selfie - we thought it best not to risk using it here. 
This image is by Henrik Ishihara and is reproduced under a Creative Commons licence 
with consent of the copyright owner

The best of them was a selfie of a grinning female, taken in perfect focus. The encounter made the news, the image went viral…and it’s been at the centre of a copyright controversy ever since. You may indeed stop me because you probably have heard this one before. But why does any of this matter?

Well, I think it’s because this story neatly encapsulates the challenges of copyright in the digital age. How do we ensure that writers, photographers, musicians and artists are credited and treated fairly when today’s technology makes it so easy to share their stories, pictures and songs? This isn’t a trifling question: according to a report by Tru Optik (a digital media monitoring company) “over 4 billion movies and TV shows were illegally downloaded worldwide in the first half of 2014”. I wouldn’t even know how to download a TV show illegally – but I’d certainly know how to Tweet you a hilarious photo of a monkey that I found on Google.

How sure are you that something you found on the internet is OK to use in your essay, lecture, Slideshare or Prezi? Even the most cursory Google image search will demonstrate that it’s easy to find images in less than a second. But what you may do with those images should give you pause for thought. In the case of the curious macaque, ask yourself these questions:
  • Who owns the image? The monkey or the photographer? Neither?
  • Who needs to grant permission to re-use the picture?
  • Since the picture was taken accidentally and not part of a deliberately set up shoot, does intent matter?
  • What if the picture had been taken by a motion-sensor trigger set up by Slater? Or the monkey was deliberately rewarded with a banana each time she took a shot?
Wikimedia Commons seem to be still grappling with these questions; Slater is claiming ownership and re-use rights and has apparently successfully had the image removed from there several times, but it's then re-uploaded by editors who believe it's in the public domain.

Thankfully, the copyright minefield - as traversed by students, libraries and researchers - was made slightly less treacherous by recent changes to UK legislation. You may still need to tiptoe warily, but the changes on format make it legal to copy a snippet from a sound recording or film for personal use, and for lecturers to include them in presentations. Libraries can digitally preserve sound and film archives and, of course, you can now legally copy your CDs to iTunes for personal use (which will come as some relief to those of us who have faithfully waited for the law to change before clicking on that ‘Import CD’ button).

So what does all this have to do with Rod Stewart?

Photo: Rod Stewart by MEDIODESCOCIDO. Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.
Well, a recent image of the back of his head is raising another cranial conundrum and causing some copyright head-scratching (sorry, couldn’t resist). The New Yorker magazine reports that Rod is being sued to the tune of two and a half million dollars - by a photographer who once took a picture of the singing Scot’s mullet:

In 1981, a professional photographer named Bonnie Schiffman took a picture of the back of Stewart’s head, which was used, eight years later, on the cover of the album “Storyteller.” Now a different picture of Stewart’s head, also from the back, has been used to promote his Las Vegas act and world tour. Schiffman claims that the resemblance between her photograph and the new image is too close - the legal term is “substantial similarity”- and she is suing for copyright infringement. 
(From Louis Menand ‘Crooner in Rights Spat’; The New Yorker online, 20 Oct 2014)

Both controversies remain hotly debated, but no one yet seems to have approached the really pressing question: at what point will an infinite number of monkeys write the works of Shakespeare? And, when (not if) that happens, who will own them and will they be part of the required reading on university English Literature courses?

Further reading:

  • You can see the licensed versions of the Macaque selfies on The Telegraph’s website and on David Slater’s official site:
  • You can find lots of books in the Library that discuss human/primate interaction and self-awareness in monkeys. Here are just a couple:
o   Macachiavellian intelligence : how rhesus macaques and humans have conquered the world Maestripieri, Dario. Chicago : University of Chicago Press 2007
o   Self-awareness in animals and humans : developmental perspectives Parker, Sue Taylor. ; Mitchell, Robert W.; Boccia, Maria. Cambridge ; New York, NY : Cambridge University Press 1994

The Social Conquest of Earth

The next donation in his 'My Nightshelf' series, Stephen Town continues his journey through evolutionary concepts with a scientific look at the history of animal and human evolution.

O.Wilson, E., The Social Conquest of Earth, in the University Library at XP 6 WIL

Meerkat by Evan Chu
Reproduced under a
CreativeCommons licence
Who and what we are seems to have become a theme of these blogs, and it is probably time to let the scientists in to the debate. In 1975, when I was a student of biology and in particular animal behaviour, Edward Wilson published his work on Sociobiology (also in the University of York Library at XL6). This work became one of the most debated and misinterpreted scientific books of its time, and created some notoriety for its author. Wilson’s own rhetorical style also did not always have the positive effect on debate that he probably intended.

The core of the issue is the extent to which human behaviour, culture and society is defined and controlled by genes, and this work shifted the common understanding.  Unfortunately the idea of a genetic basis for selfishness has since been used as a foundational rationale and excuse for a strand of economic and political agendas which ultimately helped create our current crisis.

In my chosen book, The Social Conquest of Earth, Wilson has summed up the conclusion of his life’s work on social biological societies; ranging from the ants that were his original focus through to his attempt to resolve the process of human evolution and define the human condition.

I find when managing a cooperative service like an academic library, the balance between selfishness and altruism in people is a constantly observed feature of everyday life, and this unresolved tension is at the heart of this work. It is interdisciplinary in its scope, and an easier read (and less weighty) than Sociobiology.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Evidence for God

Stephen Town questions the case for and against religion with the latest donation in his 'My Nightshelf' series.

Ward, K., The Evidence for God, in the University Library at C 11 WAR.

Photo: York Minster by
NMK Photography. Reproduced
under a Creative Commons Licence
In the week that the first woman Bishop (as far as we know) was consecrated in our City, Keith Ward, the Emeritus Professor of Divinity at Oxford University came to speak at St Peter’s School in the lecture series which I have mentioned in previous posts.

Professor Ward is a very accomplished and elegant speaker, who in his talk managed to refer to almost every reputable philosopher of the past two thousand years as well as most populist scientists of contemporary times. Within the first few minutes he constructed a reasonably convincing opposition between materialism and idealism in the minds of his largely non-academic audience, went on to associate these with different evidential assumptions identifying materialism as weak, and, with some reference to aesthetics, justified transcendental belief and consequently the existence of God.

Perhaps I simplify the arguments a little; they are more convincingly elaborated upon in my chosen book this week, Keith Ward’s ‘The Evidence for God’.

Despite the very persuasive style I still left the lecture a little dissatisfied. Personally, I don’t think that a religious position needs to rest solely on belief and evidence (a contemporary obsession), or on taking a stand on the opposition between materialism and idealism that Professor Ward suggests.

Image courtesy of Ward, K., The Evidence for God (2014)

A number of religions still operate without this excessive focus on belief and evidence, and there are other philosophers and theologians who will make the point that the early church was in fact philosophically materialist.

So what has this to do with a woman Bishop? Professor Ward appeared genuinely sad that there seems to be less interest in the traditional forms of organised religion, and that future forms need to be different. Perhaps the event in the Minster will be a positive step along this path.

Further reading: A satisfying and full account to me of how we arrived at the current position of overwhelming secularism is in Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. This is hardly a nightshelf read, but well worth the effort.

Monday, 26 January 2015


Academic Liaison Librarian for Chemistry, Computer Science, Electronics and Physics, Clare Ackerley, provides some tips on how to get the most out of this resource.

ScienceDirect is a full-text database that provides access to over 2,500 journals and over 30,000 books. In addition to Physical Sciences, Life Sciences and Health Sciences, ScienceDirect has coverage of Social Sciences and Humanities, including History, Education and Linguistics and Language.

Here are some tips on using the ScienceDirect database:

1. Register online

Registering online, allows you to save your searches, set up alerts and view your search history. Simply follow the 'Sign in' option on the top right-hand side of the screen.

Tip: If you have already registered with Scopus, you can use the same login.

2. Select Advanced Search

Using the Advanced Search option will ensure you get relevant, rich results.

There are different search forms for different resources, including journals, books and images. You could use the image search form if you are specifically looking for photos, figures or tables for example.

3. Explore mobile device article

ScienceDirect recently launched their mobile device article which makes navigating and reading the full text on a small screen much easier.

The search bar is at the top of the screen while other options such as article navigation, exporting and PDF are at the bottom.

4. Manage your references

ScienceDirect is available to University of York users via the E-resources Guide, or you can explore other useful resources for your subject on your department’s Subject Guide. ScienceDirect can be used with EndNote Online to help you collect and manage your references - more information is available on our Reference Management site.

5. Ask for help if you need it!

There is a handy Quick Reference Guide to ScienceDirect and also some great online tutorials. And if all that isn’t enough, you can follow them on Twitter or keep up to date with the ScienceDirect Blog.

For more advice about using electronic resources and for general advice about Library resources for your department contact your Academic Liaison Librarian (you can find their contact details on the Subject Guide for your department).

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The weather outside is frightful...

The snow may be patchy so far, but it's cold out there. If you're staying home, Joanne Casey tells you how to access IT resources wherever you are.

Duck on Ice by Geoffrey Kirk.
Used under a Creative Commons licence.
Did you look out of the window this morning, and want nothing more than the chance to stay under the duvet for a few more minutes? Did your car refuse to start in the cold? We have the perfect solution...

Whether you're working or studying from home, you can access a host of IT resources from the comfort of your very own sofa.

Virtual Desktop Service

Staff and students can access their University desktop from their own PC, Mac, Linux or mobile device. Connecting is quick and easy, and lets you access your filestore, and a range of applications. To keep the desktop in line with PCs in our IT classrooms and study areas, we've recently added Google Chrome to the list of available software.

Virtual Private Network

The VPN provides a secure connection allowing your computer to access the University network when you are off campus. This means that you can use services including printing, filestores, restricted web applications (eg SITS), and licence servers to give you access to University licensed software. You can download a connection app, or access the VPN via the web.

Need more?

The services that we offer to off-campus users include remote support (we can connect to your machine to help resolve issues), Google Apps (available wherever you are), and software for your own machine. To find out more, visit our web page:

Stay warm!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence

In a tribute to those affected by the recent attacks in Paris, Stephen Town donates another thought provoking book in his Nightshelf series.

Armstrong, K., Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, in the University Library at C91.17 ARM.

The appalling violence of last week calls for an educated response from those in institutions of learning. The best I can do is to donate a book this week that thoughtfully and articulately lays out the history of violence and its relationship to religion.

The author of this title, Karen Armstrong, is noted as a wise and intelligent commentator, and her ‘The Battle for God’ was the most compelling and insightful explanation of fundamentalism I have read. The often perceived connections between religion and violence are well documented in the media. But ‘Fields of Blood’ may serve as a corrective to those looking to lay easy blame.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The English and their history

Continuing his Night Shelf series with another book donation, Stephen Town discusses the history of a nation and the cultural impact on the definition of ‘being British’.

Tombs, R., The English and their history, in the University Library at Q42 TOM

Image courtesy of Tombs, R.
The English and their history (2014)
It is traditional in our family to give books at Christmas, and the first donation of the New Year is a copy of the title my son selected for me, The English and their History.

Hefty tomes encompassing the whole of this country’s history are said not to appear very often, but when they do they tend to be freighted with contemporary assumptions. My favourite is Norman Davies’ The Isles from fifteen years ago - arriving following a time when ‘Britannia’ was cool, this title delves into the history of the British Isles as a whole, and highlights the importance of each nation within it. Both being influenced by, and having an influence on future cultural ideals, five years ago our then Prime Minister encouraged a debate on what being ‘British’ meant.

Tombs’ book arrives however when we have a more local nationalism apparently on the rise; marked by the paradoxical response of ‘English votes for English laws’ to the decision by Scotland to remain part of the UK. Part of Tombs’ thesis is that the ‘English people’ was an idea developed by Bede before any such homogenous group really existed. Nevertheless, he has put together nearly a thousand pages that continue to service the myth of an English separateness.

Image courtesy of Davies, N.,
The Isles: a history (2000)
Logic and accuracy about who we are seems to worry neither politicians nor historians unduly, choosing their definitions to suit current inclinations and interpretations of ‘otherness’. In the early 90s, when the Web arrived, our government chose .gb as the domain name to represent this country initially, seemingly unaware that they were supposed to be running the United Kingdom.

Librarians are no better at cataloguing these works in a logical manner, and you'll find them sitting under various guises across different institutions. Note that in York we classify all books on the Isles as ‘British Isles – History’ irrespective of whether these cover the whole or only parts of this contested geographical framework.

However, as a result of our cataloguing this area of stock is a treasure trove for those interested in either our origins or the development of ideas of who ‘we’ are. I hope Tombs’ book will be a readable and interesting addition to this collection.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Weren’t we promised flying cars by now?

It may come as a shock to readers of a more mature vintage to learn that the classic futuristic film Blade Runner was set in 2019. Tom Grady wonders how close we are today to travelling by flying car.

'San Diego Comic-Con 2007' by Jason Scragz. Re-used under a Creative Commons licence.
The film was made in 1982 but only 3 years earlier, the Usborne Book of the Future was predicting all kinds of interesting developments (not seen any gold mines in the sky yet, but artificial intelligence and 'space-based superscopes' weren't so wide of the mark).

And Marty McFly may have been using his hoverboard in 2015 but it doesn't look like we’re going to see them in Currys any time soon (though you can buy them on Amazon where a prominent disclaimer warns the unwary buyer: "this product does not fly"). But we might not be so far away from seeing Ridley Scott's replicants working in your Library.

Westport Public Library in the US recently unveiled a pair of humanoid robots whose job will be "to teach the kind of coding and computer-programming skills required to animate such machines". Named Vincent and Nancy, the two robots have cameras, microphones and motion sensors, and use sonar to detect walls. An article in the Wall Street Journal explains:
Vincent and Nancy can recognize faces and detect where sound is coming from. They have a "fall manager" that helps them right themselves after a tumble just as a human might, grunts and all. They can even "touch" and "feel" with the help of tactile and pressure sensors.
The robots come equipped with programming software, but embedded within that software are compatible programming languages, such as Python, that can be used to expand the capabilities of the NAO bots. Aldebaran [the manufacturer] also has a large development community continuously adding new behavior apps that facilitate everything from high-five gestures to a "wake-up" routine including yawning and stretching.
This is what they look like (they're pretty cute):

Robot manufacturer Aldebaran's booth at an exhibition. Picture by Axel Voitier
re-used under a Creative Commons licence.
Aldebaran robots like Vincent and Nancy (picture credit as above)
And if that seems incredible, hold on to your hats because self-styled polymath has just designed a futuristic car! Not a flying one, sadly (though one of those exists), but one that is "equipped with four 180-degree external cameras that allow panoramic photos to be captured on your phone".

Now, your initial reaction may be similar to that of Alex Petridis in The Guardian who observed that "there are people out there who'll say that taking 180-degree panoramic photos on your phone while you’re driving sounds incredibly dangerous - in fact, it sounds like the kind of thing you would find yourself doing immediately before accidentally running someone over". But who knows?'s invention could actually just be one step behind the realisation of Deckard's hovercar.

Further reading:

The Library has a couple of DVD versions of Blade Runner (Director's Cut and Final Cut) and we also have several books discussing its significance and genesis, as well as a copy of the draft script.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Virginia Woolf, Bloomsbury, and the art of making exceedingly good cakes

Ilka Heale peruses the Library's cookery books.

"A good dinner is of great importance to good talk," Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One's Own. "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well."
Detail from a 19th century cookery book by orangebrompton. Re-used under a Creative Commons licence.
On the top floor of the Morrell Library, you'll find the Library's small cookery section at Z 41.5. But you won't find any books by Delia or Jamie there, rather facsimile editions of 18th and 19th century cookbooks amongst other books on cooking and food, including Curries and other Indian dishes by the Indian novelist Mulk Raj Anand, and Beans: a history by Ken Albala (a history of beans from around the world, which includes a few recipes. Check out the recipe on page 185 for 'Pinto bean fruit cake' and yes, the first ingredient is two cups of well-cooked pinto beans!).

Then there's this gem about the Bloomsbury Group: The Bloomsbury cookbook : recipes for life, love and art [London: Thames & Hudson 2014]. Part cookbook, part social and cultural history, it includes over 170 recipes taken from diaries or letters.

The Bloomsbury Group was the name given to an influential group of English writers, philosophers and artists who frequently met during the first half of the 20th century in the Bloomsbury district of London, the area around the British Museum. The group fostered a fresh and creative way of living that encouraged debate - debate which took place, more often than not, across the dining table.

These gatherings were organised by Thoby Stephen and his sisters Vanessa Bell (a Post-impressionist painter whose granddaughter, Cressida Bell, also illustrated this book) and the writer Virginia Woolf. They were attended by Stephen's Cambridge friends Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell, Lytton Strachey (whose favourite meal was rice pudding which he insisted on eating everyday!) and John Maynard Keynes. Well-known names today, they formed the nucleus of the group at the time.

Here's a sample from the book, featuring a recipe for chocolate biscuits which comes from Fry's Chocolate Recipes. The painting is by Roger Fry, art critic and Post-impressionist painter. He became part of the Bloomsbury Group in 1910 and was a direct descendant of the J.S. Fry chocolate dynasty.

Pages 48-9 from The Bloomsbury cookbook : recipes for life, love and art [London : Thames & Hudson 2014] by Jans Ondaatje Rolls. The painting 'Still life with biscuit tin and pots 1918' is by Roger Fry - the original is in the Walker Art Gallery.

You can find Library books on the artists of The Bloomsbury Group among the York Art Gallery gift collection and if you want to know more about the group in general, just search the Library catalogue for both print and electronic resources.