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Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Hatemail Woman in Facebook Dead Cat Bag Privacy Horror Scandal

The IPKat has just received news of a terrible tale involving a dead cat, not to mention some serious issues involving live humans, thanks to Allard Ringnalda (Research assistant, Centrum voor Intellectueel Eigendomsrecht, Utrecht University, and the co-author of a book which the IPKat would love to read if it wasn't for his linguistic ineptitude). Allard writes, on behalf of his institute and, in particular on behalf of the IPKat'd scholarly friend Professor Willem Grosheide, as follows:

"Last week, a Dutch artist known by the name of ‘Tinkebell [IPKat note: real name, Katinka Simonse] published a book --Dearest TINKEBELL-- which contained a collection of hate mail. She received this hate mail during the years 2004-2008 after she – and I am sorry to have to tell you this – killed her cat (who is reported to have been seriously ill at the time), skinned him, and made him into a purse [IPKat note: This appears to have been the subject of a book published in 2004, My dearest cat Pinkeltje]. This work of art (its interpretations vary from a protest against the treatment of animals and pets to a comment on fashion) attracted quite some attention through her website, and some 1,000 visitors felt the urge to inform the artist about their disapproval of this type of art. I’ll not reproduce the expletives used in these e-mails here, but I’m sure you can imagine their content.

Those e-mails led to a new project, the book titled Dearest TINKEBELL. Not only does this book contain all the hatemail received by the artist; it also holds all sorts of information about its senders. Every e-mail is accompanied by photographs and information (‘profiles’) from the senders, found on various publicly accessible websites (such as FaceBook and LinkedIn). It allows the reader to find out what the sender of the e-mail lookes like, where they live, what their hobbies are, where they work … The result is a rather interesting experiment in anonymity, online privacy, shame, and voyeurism. However, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, there is also a very interesting legal dimension to it.

The publication of the book is presently causing some sort of a stir among (legal) scholars in the Netherlands, and perhaps reporting it will lead to some interesting comments on your website too. The book raises all sorts of interesting questions on privacy, copyright (both in the e-mails, which would probably be protected by copyright under the recent Endstra-Tapes case law of our highest court [see here and here], and on the publically available material (pictures, text) on websites), libel, the need for an exceptio artis, etc. If you’re interested, you can find more information in an English translation of an article that appeared in a newspaper last week, which describes the project and the contents of the book. It is found here".
The IPKat is horrified to think what is done to cats for the sake of art, even if they are fast coming to the end of their ninth and final lives. However, from the point of view of the publication of letters not intended for publication, he remembers fondly William Donaldson's The Henry Root Letters, in which a hilarious set of genuine celebrity responses to a set of well-aimed hoax letters from a wealthy wet-fish merchant became a popular read without seeming to draw any threats of legal action.  

Right: never trifle with a kitten ...

The same formula was adopted by Brian Bethell in The Defence Diaries of W. Morgan Petty, when he published genuine responses to the protagonist's hoax letters in support of the attempt to make his home at 3 Cherry Drive, Canterbury, a Nuclear-Free Zone (Merpel adds: how are the mighty fallen -- you can now purchase this work for just one penny from Amazon].  Nowadays he suspects people would sue, since (i) we live in litigious times, (ii) no-one except the IPKat and his readers has a sense of humour any more and (iii) there is no implied licence to publish a response to a hoax letter.   But let's hear from the readers: what do you have to say?

More than one way to kill a cat here
More than one way to skin a cat here

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a novice in the area of libel and copyright I have a question. Does or does not the sender, in sending a letter to a public figure, implicitly renounce their right to the privacy of that communication as soon as the letter/Email is posted/sent? If the sender does retain the right to keep the letter's content secret and can base subsequent legal action on this in the event that the contents are made public by the recipient, is this right subject to any conditions (e.g. is there a public interest exception?).

I confess to a little revulsion at this sort of blatant self-aggrandising and rather tasteless publicity stunt. On the other hand, provided that no laws were broken (in particular humane treatment of the poor feline in question), freedom of speech does not distinguish between good and bad taste, nor should it.

By the way - thanks for the two book tips, I will have a look in Amazon today - in these uncertain times a little humour goes a long way.

Anonymous said...

Cat killer. Not good.

Henry Root said...

Dear IPKat

I thoroughly approve of your campaign to rid the world of dogs. I enclose £5 for your campaign.

Shobana said...

I absolutely support our admirable IPKat’s views. Humans sometimes defy their sense of sanity with such heinous cruelty in the name of art, but I suppose that’s just my personal opinion on these issues. Everyone has a right to full self-expression as long as it does not harm others and the environment . Obviously people know that what they put up on websites with public access is not protected by privacy.
Thanks again to our IPKat for the usual dose of fun and humor!

Shobana Iyer

Anonymous said...

Today it seems the cats are fighting back: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8069462.stm

C.E. Petit said...

Or it could be worse... an author mailing a dead gopher to the comptroller of a publisher that breached the publishing contract by binding cigarette ads into a paperback. Along with a recipe for gopher stew.

Yes, that really happened. Of course, the author in question is Harlan Ellison, so that shouldn't really surprise anyone.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy:

We must stop using the term "artist" too loosely. People who torture animals in the name of art can and should be called lots of things while they serve appropriate jail sentences. But they should never be called "artists", which was once a term that connoted some aesthetic achievement.

Nor should we pander to such peoples' sick search for publicity through notoriety.

For a truly horrible case that sadly comes from Canada, see:

http://canlii.org/en/on/onca/doc/2003/2003canlii20379/2003canlii20379.pdf

Tomasz Rychlicki said...

@First anonymous post
There is this chapter 10 in the Polish Act of 4 February 1994 on Authors rights and Neighboring Rights which explicite protects... the addressee of correspondence. Only the person to whom correspondence was addressed has the right to disclosure of that correspondence. In the course of the 20 years following his or her death the consent shall be granted by his spouse and, in the absence of his spouse, his descendants, ascendants or collaterals, (in that particular order). What is more interesting, the creator (author) or publisher/producer shall be obliged, at the request of the author, to keep secret the sources of information used in the work, and to abstain from revealing documents relating thereto...

Best wishes
TR

Anonymous said...

Could anyone explain to me why is it sick to skin a dead cat?

Is it worse than eating the corpse of an animal? Or worse than wearing shoes made from the skin of an animal?

Or is it just that cats are cuter than cows and pigs, at least to some people?

Is a European who does not accept a particular "European norm" relating to how humans deal with certain animals (e.g. "cat fur is taboo"), by definition a sick person? Even if this norm is rejected in large parts of the rest of the world?

(Of course, if the cat was killed in a cruel manner that is not comparable to what happens in slaughter houses, things are a bit different.)

Regarding the copyright issue, I tend to think that the right to citation should apply here (but Dutch law is not very clear on this point). Surely the sender of an unsollicited hatemail cannot oblige the recipient to keep its content secret. Furthermore, privacy protection is not an aim of copyright. So in my view the sender exhausted his/her "droit de divulgation" already by sending the hate mail.

Whether it is legal to take an e-mail address, use Google to collect whatever already published information you can find, and publish this information in a bundled form, is an interesting question. It might be argued that this processing of personal data is carried out solely for journalistic. Or in this case for artistic purposes.

Jimbo said...

(To the previous post)

People's anger is not just due to her skinning her cat, but the fact that it was alive until she wrung its neck with her own hands.

Allegedly the cat was somewhat ill and would soon be on its way to the great catbasket in the sky, but any pet owner who had half a heart would have had it helped into the next world by a vet, not throttle it themselves or bash its head in with a brick. Here in the UK such activity is classed as 'causing unnecessary suffering' and she would have been prosecuted. The essential difference between this bullsh*****g "I'm an artist, me!!" and someone like Damien Hirst is that his preserved animals have all been killed by a trained professional, he didn't just buy a live cow and chainsaw it in half.

CH said...

In answer to Anonymous1, I think there is more a question here over copyright rather than privacy.

I seem to remember a situation connected with Princess Diana sending a love letter to James Hewitt. Hewitt couldn't publish the letter as being the author, Diana owned the copyright. Diana's estate couldn't recover the letter because Hewitt owned the physical letter.

Under UK law it would seem that publication of the hatemail is therefore an infringement of the hatemail authors' copyright. Having said that, there is an exclusion to infringement where the work has been copied for the purpose of criticism or review as long as there is sufficient acknowledgement.

Further details would therefore be required to determine whether of not there is a case.

Anonymous said...

Re the answers to my question - many thanks. It seems that this is a complex issue. I am particularly intrigued by the situation in the UK where one person owns the physical property and another the intellectual property. I would hope that a public interest exception would allow the divulgation of such correspondance where this is clearly in the public interest (for example where the letter indicates that a crime has been or is about to be committed).

I wonder if there is a difference between addressing a letter/Email to a natural person and to a legal person, in particular a public body. I seem to remember that public bodies enjoy certain exceptions from the obligations to observe copyright if this is in the execution of their public duty. Then again certain public bodies deal with highly personal subject matter (e.g. the tax office) which would probably be covered by the data protection act and precluded from disclosure that way rather than by any considerations of copyright.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous of 7:40 AM:
"(for example where the letter indicates that a crime has been or is about to be committed)"

There is no infringement of copyright if you simply let the police (or anyone else) read the physical copy of the letter that you received. Copying the letter does come within the scope of copyright protection, but obviously the police is allowed to make copies of documents if this is considered necessary for solving a criminal case.

Furthermore, copyright cannot prevent anyone from divulging the substantive content of a letter. So if you somehow get possession of a letter containing private information about some person, making this information public (i.e. the substantive content of the letter, not the literal text of the letter) cannot be stopped using copyright law. This shows that copyright has nothing to do with privacy. Copyright only protects the particular manner certain information is expressed.

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