Digital Pawprint

Our office conversations are usually pretty fascinating (if I do say so myself) but this week we’ve been really been outdoing ourselves in the animal welfare corridor of the vet school.

What rights do people have over their pet’s image?

Our conversation was, as so many of the best conversations are, the result of some interesting coincidences. Our new e-Learning developer at the vet school was the genesis of Edinburgh University’s ‘Digital Footprint‘ campaign, designed to help staff and students manage their awareness of their online presence. We’ve been thinking about this a lot ourselves as we build more and more e-resources (with our YouTube channels too!).

When we take footage of an animal for educational purposes, we get the owner’s consent. But a lot of the animals we record are strays, who hopefully will go on to become somebody’s pet after they get adopted. We also sometimes ‘misrepresent’, in the loosest sense of the word, what might be happening in a piece of footage.

For example, I have a great piece of footage of Athena scratching my hand, seemingly without warning. I use it to accompany lectures/resources of cat aggression. What this piece of footage doesn’t show is that we had been playing boisterously for a few minutes prior to the scratch and I knew full well what was going to happen. I also don’t show much of her reaction afterwards, where she immediately stops her playing and starts a whole host of affiliative behaviours that is a cat’s version of apologising when it knows it’s stepped over the line. The behaviour isn’t really aggression at all, just one component of Athena’s full behavioural repertoire, the same way that if I swear at my friends it isn’t really ‘aggression’ so much as part of our friendship. But I fully believe that as an educator, the clip I show makes my overall message stronger and a facsimile of the behaviour in question is far better than a visual-less description.

I can do this because I fully understand the implications of what I’m saying and what it means to pair that with an image of Athena. Can an owner do the same? For example, if we recorded a dog in the vet clinic and then were later to use that image to imply the dog was in pain (when in fact we know its pain was well managed and these behaviours actually have another cause), has the owner been able to give full, informed consent for this? The answer is ‘no’, and it makes our job really difficult as we try to find images that we have full control over. Which is why you see our animals more than any others in our MOOCs and videos.

It becomes even more complicated when we use images of animals in shelters. They will go on to become somebody’s pet, we hope. Can we use those images when their new owner has never consented? Worse, could we possibly damage a new pet-owner relationship by showing the animal out of context? If somebody watches one of our videos and sees their new dog being the poster child for ‘aggressive dogs’, will they immediately return their new dog? From a risk management point of view, while the risk severity of this is high, the likelihood of the risk is small. It still preys on our minds though. Our best practice is to seek informed consent, and we’re looking at improving this process as we talk with our MOOC team for super secret future projects that just happen to need lots of footage of cats and dogs . . .

But this argument is not just academic. You may have seen the article in the Guardian where the winners of a Thomas Cook selfie competition were contacted by the owners of the horse who featured in their selfie. The horse is performing a Flehmen’s Response (not ‘sticking its tongue out’ as the article claims), but the owners say they trained the horse to do this. While the owners may not be able to control their horse’s image while it is in a public place, do they have the intellectual property rights to the act of training their horse at all?

To go for another example, if I was to relinquish Athena (perhaps because she had jumped on my bladder one last time on a lazy Sunday morning), and one of her future owners then capitalised on her ability to carry out a conversation, could I claim the intellectual property rights as I was the one who had trained her to do that?

Of course there’s another argument, and that is that the animals themselves own their images. Certainly Wikipedia has been contending that the IP of this particular image belongs to no one, as the photographer is the macaque itself! Animal Rights groups, of course, disagree. (Check out my post ‘Value‘ if you want more chat about the ethics of animal use).

Finally, if I am aware of all of this, and the contention of ownership over image, and I post it on my blog anyway . . .

Monkey takes selfie

By Self-portrait by the depicted Macaca nigra female. See article. [Public domain],via Wikimedia Commons

 

. . . have I just lost all my ethical street cred?

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Animal Welfare on Your Holidays

This week we have to revisit the Isla Nublar welfare audit to talk about one of Jurassic World’s best loved scenes . . . the petting zoo.

Of course it’s all oooh and ahhh when they’re babies and they’re cute, but the common love for this scene does raise an excellent point. While you’re out and about on your summer holidays, you might be tempted to do something animal related as an animal lover. I do this too. But think very carefully about how you use the animals on your holiday trip. Do you really want a picture of you sitting beside a declawed and defanged tiger that has a pretty poor quality of life?

But animal-focussed tourism can also bring a lot to a local economy, as well as being a pleasant experience for you, so how can you be a responsible animal lover on your holidays?

The ABTA has some good animal welfare guidance on their website and if you’ve booked through a travel agent they’ll want to hear about your experiences doing an animal-related activity. My tips would be:

  • Does the animal have access to water and shade?

This is especially important in warmer climates, but any animal performing needs to have access to plenty of fresh water and shade that it can avail itself of at any time.

  • Can the animal leave the situation?

Is the animal to get up and go if too many humans invade its space, or at the very least, if the animal displays behaviour suggesting it’s uncomfortable, will the tour operator accept this and end the session?

  • Does the animal look healthy?

A good indicator of welfare is general health. A thin, obese, flea-ridden or otherwise diseased animal is A) not going to be feeling very happy anyway, and B) unlikely to be living in a good environment.

So with that – enjoy your holidays!

Kill The Science

This week we’re taking a short break from the usual so I can talk about Doctor Who. Specifically, last week’s Doctor Who Episode ‘Kill The Moon’.

Before you animal lovers scurry away, let me give you a brief, spoilery synopsis. If you don’t want to know the score, look away now . . .

Continue reading “Kill The Science”