Category Archives: Satire

Satire Sketch

British Airways – Check-in Counter

Published by:

Blog by Richard Heagy

(The scene is a British Airways (BA) terminal on a Bank Holiday weekend during which BA has suffered another disruption of its IT system, this time a complete meltdown of its worldwide system. Lines snake back and forth in the departure hall and outside as far as the eye can see. A disgruntled male passenger finally reaches the front of the line and confronts the female agent behind the counter at one of the few check-in positions that is open. He is dressed casually, wearing a short-sleeved shirt that reveals a large bruise on his left arm and a broken wristwatch)

BA AGENT:  May I help you?

PASSENGER: I doubt it?

BA AGENT:  We are doing the best we can, Sir.

PASSENGER:  Do you know how long I have been waiting in line?

BA AGENT:  I have no idea, but if you like I can make a guess.

PASSENGER:  Never mind.

(The PASSENGER looks at the broken watch on his left wrist and places his hand on the counter with a thump)

PASSENGER (continuing):  What time is it? As you can see my watch is broken and my arm is bruised.

BA AGENT:  Sorry about that.

PASSENGER:  Would you like to hear how it happened?

BA AGENT: Not really, Sir. Right now we are very busy.

PASSENGER:  I will tell you anyway, since it is BA’s fault.

(The BA AGENT drums her fingers on the counter impatiently)

PASSENGER:  After queueing for several hours I finally made it inside the terminal and eventually found a place to lie down alongside several other passengers in close quarters where we were furnished with yoga mats. I must have dozed off for a bit, but woke up suddenly with a lot of pain in my arm. One of the passengers was trying to step over me, but ended up stepping on my arm and breaking my watch.

BA AGENT: That’s unfortunate, but all of the passengers are suffering some kind of inconvenience because of the delays.

PASSENGER:  I expect the airline to reimburse me.

BA AGENT:  You will have to file your claim for compensation online.

PASSENGER:  How can I do that when your IT system is dead?

BA AGENT:  I really don’t know, Sir. It’s not my department. You might phone customer service for information. They may be able to help.

PASSENGER: When pigs fly.

BA AGENT:  Excuse me?

PASSENGER: As I said, we were furnished with yoga mats but after a while I started getting a stiff neck. When I asked one of your staff about pillows, he said it would cost £7.

BA AGENT:  That’s not right, Sir.

PASSENGER: Probably wanted to take advantage of the situation and make a little money on the side.

BA AGENT:  Not at all, Sir. Our new CEO raised the price to £12 for pillows.

PASSENGER: You got to be kidding.

BA AGENT: No, Sir. We at BA take our pricing very seriously.

PASSENGER: Pretty soon you will probably cut out all amenities on board.

BA AGENT:  There are no plans for that. Instead, we will charge for everything, no matter how small. Everything is being phased in, as you can see from the notice behind me.

(The PASSENGER looks up and reads the notice out loud)

PASSENGER: Peanuts, 5 p each; paper napkin, 10 p; recycled water, £1.50; plastic cup to hold the water, 75p; key to unlock and lower tray table, £1; toilet paper, £3; use of toilet (3 minute limit), £5.

BA AGENT:  You will need to have exact change as no change will be given on board.

PASSENGER:  You will probably start charging for a cushion on the seats inside the plane next.

BA AGENT:  What an excellent idea. If I submit that as an employee suggestion I may get an award.

PASSENGER:  What about the air outside the terminal while queueing for a delayed flight?

(The BA AGENT looks at the line behind the PASSENGER)

BA AGENT:  Is there anything else I can help you with?

PASSENGER:  Yes, I need a new boarding pass since my flight was changed.

BA AGENT:  I’m sorry but the printer is not working.

PASSENGER:  Maybe you can just write one out by hand.

BA AGENT: Even if I could do that, I don’t have any paper.

PASSENGER:  Use this. Be careful; it’s the only one I have.

(The PASSENGER places a paper napkin of the counter. The BA AGENT looks at the napkin; then at her watch)

BA AGENT:  Oh, look what time it is. My shift is over. Good luck and thank you for choosing BA.

(The BA AGENT walks off and is soon replaced with a new agent)

PASSENGER:  I would like …

NEW AGENT:  Sorry, but my shift doesn’t start for five more minutes.

(The NEW AGENT takes a bottle of nail polish from her purse and places it on the counter)

NEW AGENT (continuing):  I know you have been waiting for quite some time, so a few more minutes should not matter.

ANNOUNCEMENT (over loudspeaker):  We at British Airways are truly sorry for the delays that you have experienced and are doing everything possible to remedy the situation and get you to your destinations. You will hear a personal message from our CEO just as soon as he has finished his afternoon tea.

PASSENGER: Cobblers.

NEW AGENT: What did you say?

(The NEW AGENT starts polishing her nails, spills a few drops of polish on the counter and picks up the napkin to wipe it up)

PASSENGER:  I mean to say bollocks.

(The PASSENGER slams his right fist of the counter and the bottle of nail polish spills all over)

NEW AGENT:  Well, really. There is no need to get upset over a delay; it happens all the time.


Humour Satire

PERSONA – the new miracle drug

Published by:

Blog by Richard Heagy

Who needs ‘big pharma’ anyway? A hitherto unknown pharmaceutical company incorporated in one of the lesser-known tax haven islands in the Coral Sea (east of Australia) today filed an application with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval of its new drug PERSONA. Extracts from the filing are as follows.


BENEFITS: Relief for persons with irritable personalities. Does everyone think that you are a jerk—even your own mother? Our new miracle drug will make you as lovable as a cute panda.


INGREDIENTS: Panda urine extracted from the bark of pine trees where pandas have relieved themselves, combined with three common herbs frequently found in your kitchen.

EDITOR’s COMMENT: Although naming the herbs is not likely to allow you to replicate PERSONA, disclosure might give the impression that the new miracle drug was excessively priced.


SIDE EFFECTS (also sometimes called severe adverse reactions):

Bladder pain

Blindness (usually temporary)


Blurred vision (no worse than after a few too many drinks)

Constipation (you have probably had this before anyway)


Frequent craving to eat bamboo shoots (avoid using chopsticks in Chinese restaurants)

Itching (could be anywhere or everywhere)

Loss of balance (more common with left-handed persons)

Nausea (stay close to the toilet)

Numbness (usually in the feet and nose)

Rash (sometimes resembling a Spotted Sandpiper or similar bird, but the spots are red)

Risk of falling and bone fractures (try to land on your ass, not your hands)

Shortness of breath

Vomiting (carry a large plastic bag while taking PERSONA)

EDITOR’s COMMENT: If you carry a plastic bag while walking your dog, don’t forget to bring an extra bag for yourself.



Farting during sex



Humour Satire Sketch

French Incivility Brigade vs Dog Poop Street Art

Published by:

Blog by Richard Heagy

The hearings of the Committee on Legal Affairs, on recommendation of the Working Group on Copyright, take place in one of the EU’s modern cost-is-no-object buildings, with ceilings in the lobby so high that Michelangelo could never have painted murals on it unless he wore an oxygen mask and learned to levitate. The hearings today are being held in one of the smaller rooms of the cost-is-no-object building as not all members of the Committee on Legal Affairs are scheduled to be present.

Two members in long black robes with white wing collars are seated on a dais, three steps—not a mere one or two steps—above the floor in the small but well-appointed meeting room. Their shoes, no doubt expensive, are hidden from view by a long mahogany piece of furniture, similar to a long bench or credenza, which curves at an angle of 10 mm per 10 cm of length—the same as the maximum EU curvature rules allow for Class I cucumbers.  The EU flag flies from a pole at either end of the dais.

Their serious faces cast an impression that they have been frozen in time, possibly waiting for Doctor Who to appear. Actually, they are waiting for the third member—the Chairman—to arrive before they begin. In front of the dais are several rows of chairs, divided by a wide aisle in the middle. An usher walks up and down the aisle, quietly offering peanuts or popcorn for three Euros; beer is 6 Euros. The members are not happy about this, but it was one of the conditions of the vendor for selling his shop and small piece of land to the EU.

A Page enters, dressed similar to the Swiss Guards at the Vatican, and blows a trumpet.

PAGE: All rise.

(Everyone stands as the CHAIRMAN enters. The PAGE walks to a small stand, pushes a button and the national anthem of the EU starts rolling. The CHAIRMAN puts both hands to his head in agony)

CHAIRMAN: Turn that thing off. I have an awful hangover…I mean headache. No offence to Schiller or Beethoven, but I do not need ‘Ode to Joy’ this morning, not after last night.

(The music stops. The CHAIRMAN takes his place the centre of the dais and the PAGE tells those in the audience to be seated)

VICE-CHAIRMAN: It looks more like a hangover.

CHAIRMAN: Last night I violated one of most important principles of civilisation.


CHAIRMAN: Never drink cheap wine.

VICE-CHAIRMAN: You drank cheap wine? I am appalled.

CHAIRMAN: It was not my fault. We had guests over last night and one of them brought a cheap bottle of wine, the name of which I would never utter in your presence.

VICE-CHAIRMAN: I certainly hope not, but why did you drink it?

CHAIRMAN: My wife opened the bottle, filled the glasses and passed them around before I could say anything. I had no choice.

VICE-CHAIRMAN: There is always a choice.

CHAIRMAN: Not when your brother-in-law brings the wine. Unfortunately, he is above even the slightest criticism in our house; I have to pretend to be nice to him when he visits.

VICE-CHAIRMAN: That must be difficult.

CHAIRMAN: Not really; I took several acting lessons some time ago.

(The PAGE departs and is replaced by the CLERK, dressed in a dark suit, much like a funeral director )

CHAIRMAN (to the CLERK): What is the first item on today’s agenda?

CLERK: There is a conflict between the recently introduced French Incivility Brigade and the rights of street artists, one in particular. That is all I know, being a lowly civil servant and not privy to the documents filed in this matter.

CHAIRMAN: Well, I have not seen them either. Are representatives here to represent all of the stakeholders who have an interest in this matter?

CLERK: Yes—the injured party and representatives of the French Incivility Brigade, Paris street artists, the French Patrolmen’s Association, and Professor Mockingbird, a copyright expert and author of Soft Sculpture and Copyright.

CHAIRMAN: Call the first witness.

CLERK: First witness, representing the French Incivility Brigade.

CHAIRMAN (to BRIGADE WITNESS): Can you explain what the French Incivility Brigade is?

BRIGADE WITNESS: Yes, Your Excellency.

CHAIRMAN: That sounds nice, but Your Chairmanship will do.

BRIGADE WITNESS: A little history, if I may?

CHAIRMAN: Be brief.

BRIGADE WITNESS: Of course. Several years ago Paris had a fleet of Motocrottes, but …

VICE-CHAIRMAN (interrupting): What is a Motocrotte?

BRIGADE WITNESS: A motorised pooper-scooper, used to pick up dog poop. They were expensive and later abandoned after it was determined that they were only collecting about 20% of the dog shit on the streets of Paris.

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: I got here on time to hear about dog shit in Paris?

BRIGADE WITNESS: There are more important issues involved.

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: I certainly hope so.

BRIGADE WITNESS:  Paris has recently established an Incivility Brigade of about 2,000 security agents to hand out warnings and fines to those who commit antisocial behaviour. They will be uniformed and armed with teargas spray and wooden-handled truncheons.

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: So, they are going to deal with bank robbers, jewellery store heists and other serious crimes.

BRIGADE WITNESS: Not exactly. They are going to track down and punish men who urinate against walls in public, litter-bugs who toss cigarette butts on the street and dog owners who do not clean up after their dogs poop on the sidewalk.

VICE-CHAIRMAN: I do not understand how this involves the EU.

BRIGADE WITNESS: The legality of the Incivility Brigade has been challenged by certain street art groups and artists in Paris. Artists in other parts of Europe are likely to encounter similar problems.

VICE-CHAIRMAN: That is an odd one; I would have thought that the dog owners in Paris would be the ones against it.

BRIGADE WITNESS: There have been some demonstrations but no legal action… well, only one.

CHAIRMAN: Please explain, but be brief.

BRIGADE WITNESS: The Mayor was finishing lunch at his favourite outdoor café and an angry dog owner approached him and complained about the new Incivility Brigade. One of the Mayor’s aides stood and told the dog owner to leave or he would be arrested; then stamped his foot to scare off the dog, sat and asked for the bill. Unnoticed by the Mayor or his aide, the dog made a deposit under the Mayor’s chair before running off. After the bill was paid, the Mayor slipped in a pile of dog shit when he got up to leave. A nearby policeman was called to chase after the dog owner and arrest him.

CHAIRMAN: We need to move along. Who is next?

CLERK: The representative of the French Patrolmen’s Association.

CHAIRMAN (to ASSOCIATION WITNESS): Are you here in support of the Incivility Brigade?

ASSOCIATION WITNESS: Not at all. We are against them.

CHAIRMAN: Please explain.

ASSOCIATION WITNESS: We are all in favour of cleaning up crime in Paris, even cigarette butts.

CHAIRMAN: Not dog shit?

ASSOCIATION WITNESS: No. First, Parisians love their dogs and are extremely unhappy with the Incivility Brigade; they will express their anger at all law enforcement officers, including us. Second, it is easier to catch criminals engaged in street crime when they slip on dog shit. We have special non-skid boots, so it is not a problem for us.

CHAIRMAN: Thank you for your insight; you are excused.  Is there someone here to represent the street artists?

STREET ARTIST WITNESS (standing): Right here.

CHAIRMAN: What do street artists have against the activities of the French Incivility Brigade?

STREET ARTIST WITNESS: Their enforcement actions will in some cases violate the protections of street artists under copyright laws.

CHAIRMAN: Such as?

STREET ARTIST WITNESS: The right to integrity—not to have your work altered, or the right to reproduce and sell your work—which disappears if your work is removed or destroyed by overzealous officers.

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: Have there been any cases of street art being removed or destroyed?

STREET ARTIST WITNESS: Yes. We brought a victim—the person who filed the initial complaint.

CHAIRMAN: Very well, next witness.

(The next witness is a dog owner, but not the one arrested by the Mayor)

DOG OWNER: I live in Paris in the 20th Arrondissement, where street art is encouraged, at least if it is on a wall.

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: Where is yours?

DOG OWNER: On the ground.

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: Be more specific—the sidewalk, the pavement?

DOG OWNER: On the sidewalk, but either would qualify for copyright protection. An idea or artistic expression, such as street art, requires basically no creativity, but it must be fixed in some tangible form to be protected under copyright laws.

VICE-CHAIRMAN: We all know the basic principles of copyright law. Why are you here?

DOG OWNER: Because the EU has been revising its rules to provide harmonization of copyright law throughout the 28 member nations. Criminal and copyright laws are in conflict in France; now it the time to sort this out and provide uniformity throughout the EU.

CHAIRMAN: Proceed, if you must.

DOG OWNER: The French Incivility Brigade destroyed one of my sculptures and gave me three fines.

CHAIRMAN: You are talking about street art, correct?

DOG OWNER: Yes. The first fine was for my dog pissing on a fire hydrant. I did not challenge that because the dog piss just went down into the gutter instead of creating anything in a fixed form. Next, my dog started walking away and the officer yelled at him. The poor thing was so scared that he made an extra big poop on the sidewalk. I lit a cigarette to calm down, looked at the poop and could not believe what I saw. It looked very much like a face, with an uncanny resemblance to the officer. I started laughing and stubbed out my cigarette. Then I stuck the butt in the dog shit just where the mouth should be.

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: I bet that went over well with the officer.

DOG OWNER: He gave me a fine for dog litter and another for the cigarette butt. When I refused to clean it up he shoved me with his truncheon and I stumbled onto the dog shit, destroying my street art.

VICE-CHAIRMAN: I believe that there is a case pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit—Naruto vs Slater—which involves the question of whether or not an animal may be a copyright owner. If we adopted such a rule in the EU, your dog would own the copyright, not you, in the event that this particular dog poop constituted an artistic expression in fixed form. On the other hand, you might be the author of the dog poop face if you directed your dog where and when to shit, also taking into account your placement of the cigarette butt.

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: Let me interject. Depending on the consistency of the dog poop, it may be in fixed form only temporarily; and thus not entitled to copyright protection by anyone.

DOG OWNER: I would like Professor Mockingbird to testify on that point.

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: Professor, do you have a first name?

PROFESSOR MOCKINGBIRD: Yes, but I prefer not to say it.

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: I am afraid we need it for the record if you are going to testify.

PROFESSOR MOCKINGBIRD (in a soft voice): Elmo.

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: Professor, could you please speak up?


(Everyone in the committee room starts laughing, until silenced by the CHAIRMAN)

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: I am sorry to hear that, but what are your qualifications?

PROFESSOR MOCKINGBIRD: I am the author of Soft Sculpture and Copyright, available in either French or English. If you would care to buy a copy, it is available online from Amazon and other booksellers. I am also a guest lecturer on the topic of street art at many universities throughout Europe.

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: My understanding is that for purposes of copyright law, a work is considered to be fixed when it is embodied in a tangible, stable and concrete form. Works that are transitory in nature are not protectable under copyright law as they are not fixed. Would you not agree with that, Professor?

PROFESSOR MOCKINGBIRD: Yes, as to dog piss, but not as to street art in the form of soft sculpture.

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: Would you care to define soft sculpture.

PROFESSOR MOCKINGBIRD: Street art is typically painted on a wall, on the side of a building or sometimes on the pavement. Soft sculpture is often attached to something, such as a building or a park bench, but can be placed on the ground or pavement. Although soft sculpture typically is made from rubber, latex or cloth, there is no reason why soft sculpture cannot consist of dog shit.

COMMITTEE AVOCAT: How can dog poop on the sidewalk be deemed to be in fixed form? It is transitory, ready to be swept away or washed away in the rain.

PROFESSOR MOCKINGBIRD: That is not necessarily so, especially in the non-rainy season. Once in fixed form, copyright attaches, even though the creation may subsequently be destroyed. For example, suppose I write a lecture on a piece of paper, read it to an audience and then destroy the paper; my copyright continues.

VICE-CHAIRMAN: Professor, are you sure that you want your lecture notes to be compared with a pile of dog shit?


CHAIRMAN: The EU has received more than enough criticism over the volume of its directives and regulations.  We do not need to add dog shit to the list. Hearing adjourned.

CLERK: All rise. Watch your step when you leave the building.



Humour Satire

We are busy assisting other customers…

Published by:

Blog by Richard Heagy


Please listen carefully as our menu may have changed from the last time you attempted to contact us. We are experiencing unusually high volume and are busy assisting other customers. [Interpretation – The Company is too cheap to hire enough help to answer calls without long wait times.]

If you believe that, please press 1.

Thank you for selecting 1. You will now be added to our telemarketing list, which we sell to others in order to increase net income.

Please stay on the line and we will get to you as soon as possible.

Please press 2 if you need to take a piss while you wait; we will place your call on hold for a minimum of three minutes. If you need more time, please press the number of additional minutes, followed by the pound sign. If you have difficulty pissing, give yourself enough time.

Please press 3 if you need to take a crap while you wait; we will place your call on hold for a minimum of ten minutes; if you are full of shit and need more time, please press the number of additional minutes, followed by the pound sign. We hope everything comes out all right. If not, try eating some prunes before you call us back.

Please press 4 if you need to fart, as our staff members, though low-paid, are sensitive and refined persons not used to hearing crude sounds. Your call will be placed in a special holding pattern until you return to waiting by pressing the pound sign. In the case of multiple farts, we will give you sufficient time to open your window and press the pound sign before disconnecting you.

Please press 5 if you are an impatient person and we will disconnect your call after 60 seconds as we do not wish to add to your anxiety. You might want to consult a doctor about your condition before you call us again. Good luck and Happy Groundhog Day.

Please press 6 if you would like us to call you back one of these days. Hopefully it will be during your lifetime, but if you live in a retirement community who knows?

Please press 7 if you would not like to listen to music while you wait. We have a new song each day, which repeats over and over, and it is likely that you will have the lyrics memorised by the time we get to you.

Thank you for selecting 7. You will now hear endless advertisements while you wait, and if you wait long enough, you may hear something of interest to you.

Please press 8 if you would like to return merchandise. You should have your address, credit card number and order number ready.

Thank you for selecting 8. Unfortunately this option is no longer available.

Please press 9 if you would like to return to the main menu.

Thank you for selecting this option. You will now be disconnected. Have a nice day.

NOTE: If you call back, the line will be busy.


Farce Play Satire

Solicitor General in a Cow Pasture

Published by:

Blog by Richard Heagy

NOTE: Procedure in the US District Courts is not necessarily as portrayed in this play, which is a follow-on to the recent blog about Naruto v. Slater entitled ‘ENOUGH ABOUT MONKEY SELFIES.’


(The scene is a courtroom, not your ordinary one, but an outdoor setting in a cow pasture. The judge sits on a rail fence, squirming uncomfortably. To one side is a sign on a stick leaning against the fence: U.S. District Court. On the other side is a pine tree, the Plaintiff, with an abandoned piece of sheet metal at the base of the tree; behind it are two smaller trees. In front of the judge sits a large metal drum, upon which a gavel rests. A red barn is in the background and the hot sun is shining above)

JUDGE: Conifer vs. the United States. This is an action against the U.S. Copyright Office filed by a tree.

(The JUDGE pauses, shakes his head)

JUDGE: Is that right Counsellor, a tree?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: That is correct, unusual as it may be.

JUDGE: Not really, after a while you have seen everything.

(The JUDGE looks around and notices the trees off to the side)

JUDGE: Which one is the Plaintiff?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY (pointing): The tall one with the drooping branches, nearest the fence.

JUDGE: The complaint alleges that the Defendant has refused to file three copyright applications for musical compositions created by the Plaintiff on the ground that an author of copyrightable material must be a human being. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that Plaintiff has no standing to file a suit, citing Naruto v. David Slater, a 2016 case in which a District Court in San Francisco held that a monkey cannot be the author and owner of a selfie—a photograph of the monkey taken by itself. Defendant also filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, contending that Plaintiff’s material consists merely of sounds that are not subject to copyright protection.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Your Honour, may it please the court…

JUDGE: I prefer ‘Your Excellency.’

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Your Excellency …


JUDGE: Your Excellency, what?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I was about to say …

JUDGE: Well, get on with it! Do you think I can sit on this rail fence all day?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Sorry, Your Honour.

JUDGE: Your what?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Your Excellency. Defendant’s Reliance on Naruto v. Slater is premature at this time.

JUDGE: How is that?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: The case is on appeal in the Ninth Circuit, which has been known to toss copyright law on its head, and PETA (acting as Next Friend of Naruto) is very determined to pursue the case.

JUDGE: True enough.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: In any event, Naruto v. Slater is not on point, because it involves alleged copyright infringement. The instant case is concerned with copyright registration.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I do not know why we have to hear the case out here in the sticks.

JUDGE: Careful, sonny… In case you have not noticed, the Plaintiff is a tree and can hardly walk to California, unless you believe in Monty Python’s sketch The Walking Tree of Dahomey. We accommodate plaintiffs with disabilities here.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Unlike you lazy bozos in Washington.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I object, Your Honour.

JUDGE: It’s Your Excellency. The next one who says “Your Honour,” is in contempt of court.

(Some cows pass by on their way to the barn. The JUDGE bangs his gavel on the metal drum)

JUDGE: Bailiff, clear the court.

(The BAILIFF shoes the cows away, toward the barn. The JUDGE again bangs the gavel on the metal drum as the cows exit, this time giving the sounds a musical twist)

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: That has a nice ring to it, Your Excellency, very musical.

JUDGE: Thank you.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: You might want to record it; I can recommend a good agent.

JUDGE: Do you really think so?


JUDGE: You don’t like my music?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: That is not what I meant, Your Honour.

JUDGE: Did I hear you correctly?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I said Your Excellency; I’m sure that’s what I said.

JUDGE: You did not.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I meant to say Your Excellency.

JUDGE: Too late. Bailiff, this man is in contempt.

(The BAILIFF approaches and places a dunce cap on the head of the SOLICITOR GENERAL. The dunce cap is a little too large and the BAILIFF tries to help the SOLICITOR GENERAL adjust it)

BAILIFF: There is a twenty-five cent deposit for the cap.

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL puts his hands in his pockets and comes up empty)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: No change. Will you take a check? I don’t usually travel with cash.

BAILIFF (to JUDGE): Wants to know if we will take a check for the deposit.

JUDGE: The Court will exercise its discretion and waive the twenty-five cent deposit.

(The BAILIFF turns to leave and accidentally steps on the SOLICITOR GENERAL’s shoes)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: These shoes are brand new. Do you have any idea how much they cost?

BAILIFF: No, I wear boots.

JUDGE (to SOLICITOR GENERAL): The United States of America is wasting the Court’s time. Do you have anything more to say?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I have not even started, Your Excellency. I wish to file an objection to the statement made by Plaintiff’s Attorney.

JUDGE: What is it that you find objectionable?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: The whole thing is insulting.

JUDGE: You will have to be more specific. Are you objecting to lazy or bozos?


JUDGE: Objection overruled as to lazy; it is common knowledge that Congress has not accomplished much of anything for quite some time.


JUDGE: Counsellor, are you familiar with Rule 201?


JUDGE: Rule 201 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. It provides that a U.S. District Court may take judicial notice of a fact not subject to reasonable dispute and generally know. Do you have any evidence to offer to refute the statement that Congress is lazy?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Are you kidding?

JUDGE: Objection overruled, as to lazy.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I still object to bozos.

JUDGE: Because the word bozos is modified by the adjective lazy, it cannot be separated from lazy in this context; objection also overruled as to bozos. You may sit down.

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL looks around, finds nothing to sit on and steps back)

JUDGE (to PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY): Are you ready to make an opening statement?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Yes, Your Excellency. Plaintiff has filed this action to require the U.S. Copyright Office to register three musical works composed by the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff will call a witness to testify that some sounds made by trees—and in particular the Plaintiff’s—are considered to be music, thus subject to copyright as musical compositions, although they would qualify as sound recordings whether or not considered as music. The Defendant’s refusal is contrary to law.

JUDGE (to SOLICITOR GENERAL): Counsellor, do you wish to make an opening statement for the Defendant.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I do not think it is necessary to take any more of the Court’s time, and I must get back to Washington for an important meeting.

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL looks at his watch)

JUDGE: Was that a yes or a no?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: No opening statement. Instead, I make a motion to dismiss for lack of standing, as Plaintiff is not a human being.

JUDGE: I do not see that requirement in the copyright statute. Motion denied.

(The JUDGE hits the metal drum with his gavel)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Then, I would like to make an opening statement.

JUDGE: Too late.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: The Rules of Civil Procedure of the Federal District Courts allow …

JUDGE: We have a shorter version out here sonny—in the sticks as you call it.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I need to make a phone call.

JUDGE: Fine, but you will have to step outside the courtroom. Court will recess for ten minutes.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: We are in a cow pasture, not a courthouse.

JUDGE: Bailiff, would you set up the perimeter of the courtroom?

(The BAILIFF enters the barn and returns with a two-wheeled white line marker, which he pushes around to set off a rectangle that marks the interior of the courtroom, ending at the rail fence. The BAILIFF looks down as he pushes the machine, diligently trying to make the lines straight. Near the edge of the proposed boundary, the SOLICITOR GENERAL is dialing his cell phone, but doesn’t notice the approaching BAILIFF)

SOLICITOR GENERAL (into phone): No, I am not calling from a secure phone; I am calling from a cow pasture.

(The BAILIFF, eyes on the ground, pushes the machine over the SOLICITOR GENERAL’s right foot, covering the shoe with white chalk)



SOLICITOR GENERAL (continuing – into phone): No, I wasn’t talking to you.


SOLICITOR GENERAL (continuing): Hello … hello … hello …

(The BAILIFF reaches the fence, finishing his task, returns the chalk machine to the barn and reappears)

JUDGE: Bailiff.

BAILIFF: Court is back in session.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I was disconnected; I didn’t finish my call.

JUDGE (to SOLICITOR GENERAL): Maybe you did not hear the Bailiff, but Court is back in session. Would you like a recess until tomorrow morning so you can go into town and buy a hearing aid?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: No, no. Everything is fine.

(He looks at his watch)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: If we could just speed things up, maybe I can make the five o’clock train back to Washington.

JUDGE: Give your watch to the Bailiff to hold so you can concentrate on the case.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: It’s very expensive.

(He suddenly covers the watch with his right hand)

JUDGE: A Rolex?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Certainly not. It’s a Patek Philippe.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: The Department of Justice must pay pretty well. I must have the wrong job.

JUDGE: Me too. Any vacancies at the DOJ?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I will just put the watch in my pocket if that will be OK, Your Excellency.

(He takes the watch off and puts it in his pants pocket)

JUDGE (to PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY): Let us proceed. Counsellor, you may argue the Plaintiff’s case.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Copyright law provides two distinct types of protection for musical works, one for musical compositions and another for sound recordings. A musical composition often contains lyrics in addition to melody, but does not always have lyrics.

BAILIFF: What’s lyrics?

JUDGE: Bailiff, your duties do not include asking questions.

BAILIFF: Sorry, Your Excellency.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Lyrics, for the benefit of the Bailiff, are the words that accompany a song, but not all compositions have words, as in Plaintiff’s case. Copyright results the moment the words and/or melody are fixed in a tangible form, such as saved on a computer disk or printed as a hard copy, etc.

JUDGE: We do not use etcetera in this courtroom, Counsellor. Bailiff, strike etcetera from the record.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: When a sound recording is made of the musical composition, a copyright results, which is separate from the copyright in the musical work itself.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Aha! Perhaps you could explain how your client created a copyright in its work by reducing it to writing, prior to recording it. Maybe he wrote it down with a branch.

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL laughs at his own joke)

SOLICITOR GENERAL (continuing): Perhaps we could have a demonstration.

JUDGE (to SOLICITOR GENERAL): Counsellor, approach the bench.


JUDGE: Who me what?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Who me, Your Excellency?

JUDGE: That’s better.

(He motions with his index finger and the SOLICITOR GENERAL comes forward)


(He points at the steel drum)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I guess this is the bench.

JUDGE: Lucky guess.

(He pounds the gavel on the drum so loud that the SOLICITOR GENERAL jumps)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Did I say something wrong?

JUDGE: No jokes in the courtroom, got that?


JUDGE: Absolutely, what?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Absolutely, Your Excellency.

JUDGE: Another thing. Why are you dressed up like a funeral director?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I didn’t realize that we would be in the middle of a … I mean outdoors.

JUDGE: Very well. Let’s continue.

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL moves back and the PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY steps forward)

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: As everyone knows, or at least almost everyone knows …

(He looks at the SOLICITOR GENERAL)

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY (continuing): If a musical composition is not in writing, it becomes fixed in a tangible form when recorded the first time it is sung or played. Two copyrights come into existence simultaneously, one for the original musical composition and another for the sound recording. If the musical composition includes lyrics in addition to melody, then there are three copyrightable works.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I know that. I was just exploring a point.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Naturally, a point that I just explained away.

JUDGE: Can we continue?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: The copyright to the sound recording belongs to the producer and the copyright to Plaintiff’s music …

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Objection. It has not yet been established that the sounds allegedly made by Plaintiff are actually music.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Your Excellency, I am about to establish that.

JUDGE: Objection overruled.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I call my first witness.

(He whistles and a back bird swoops down from nowhere and perches on the rail fence)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: You are calling a crow as a witness. Is this, a joke?

(The black bird flies above the head of the SOLICITOR GENERAL and hovers, flapping its wings)

RAVEN: I am a raven, not a crow, you idiot.

(Then it flies back to settle on the rail fence)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Your Excellency, I object to the word … oh, never mind.

(He looks at his wrist, having forgotten that the watch is in his pocket)

JUDGE (to RAVEN): Take the witness stand.

(The BAILIFF wheels over a large wheelbarrow and the RAVEN flies over and perches on the edge of a handle)

JUDGE: Bailiff, swear in the witness.

BAILIFF: I forgot to bring a Bible.

JUDGE: Just proceed without one.

BAILIFF (to RAVEN): Hold up your right … forget it.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Raven, are you familiar with the Plaintiff?


PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: What is your relationship?

RAVEN: Well, I often rest on its branches and it never complains or tries to shake me off.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Would you say that you were friends?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Aha! Your Excellency, I move to have Raven declared as a hostile witness.

JUDGE: What purpose will that serve?


JUDGE: Time’s up. Motion denied.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Raven, are you familiar with the sounds that Plaintiff makes?

RAVEN: Of course; I hear them several times a day.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Would you consider them to be music?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Objection. It has not been established that Raven is an expert witness in the field of music.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I will stipulate that Raven is not an expert music witness, but I merely ask the Court to hear his testimony as a personal opinion, by one who has spent much more time in the woods listening to the sounds of trees and birds than any music professor or graduate of The Julliard School in New York City.

JUDGE: Very well. Subject to the stipulation that Raven is not an expert witness, you may proceed.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I repeat; would you consider Plaintiff’s sounds to be music?

RAVEN: Kraaa, kraaa, kraaa.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I beg your pardon.

RAVEN: Sorry, English is not my first language. Sometimes I forget. I meant to say most of them.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Objection to most of them.

JUDGE: Objection sustained.

(He hits his gavel on the steel drum)

JUDGE (to PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY): Counsellor, your question will have to be more specific.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I would like to offer into evidence this CD, which the Court and Raven may listen to, followed by Raven’s opinion as to whether the sounds constitute music. The CD is attached to Plaintiff’s complaint as an Exhibit.

JUDGE: Very well, you may proceed.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: There are three compositions on the CD, Your Excellency.

(The PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY sets up a battery operated CD player and all gather round to listen to the sound recording, their facial expressions varying from time to time. The first one emits various sounds, including branches creaking and swaying in the wind, leaves rustling and branches snapping back, returning to position as squirrels jump from one branch to the next)

SOLICITOR GENERAL:  Your Excellency, this is not a recording of a musical composition, and cannot possibly qualify for copyright protection. It is just loud sounds, and basic ones at that.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Music is not the only sound that can be recorded.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Yes, but this case is about the Plaintiff’s alleged copyright in a recorded musical composition, not the recording of basic non-musical sounds.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I stand corrected, a rare occurrence.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: The sounds are not music and have no artistic quality at all.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Artistic merit is not a requirement for copyright. I cite Hein v. Harris 175 F. 875 (1910), affirmed by the Second Circuit in 1923, in which Judge Learned Hand stated that the lack of originality and musical merit in songs is of no consequence. The case involved copyright infringement, in which Judge Hand compared Arab Love Song to I Think I Hear a Woodpecker.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Nevertheless, a musical work must contain a sufficient amount of creative expression to be copyrightable. I cite the Compendium of U. S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition (2014).

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I object. The Compendium is not a law; it is merely an internal document used by the U.S. Copyright Office as a guide in registering works for copyright, or more precisely what the Copyright Office is willing to register.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I object to your objection.

JUDGE (to SOLICITOR GENERAL): Counsellor, could you give the Court a more specific citation from this Compendium?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Certainly, Your Excellency.

(He opens his briefcase, pulls out a thick book and starts thumbing through it)

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Are you going to read the whole thing?  How many pages is it, anyway?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: 1,288 pages, but it won’t take very long; I have bookmarked several sections.

(He starts flipping through the book, but it is thick and heavy and he drops it; some of the bookmarks fall out, but he scrambles to pick them up, first grabbing the book)

JUDGE: Looks like this is going to take you some time. Counsellor, why don’t you have a seat in the witness box?

(He looks at the BAILIFF and motions with his hand. The BAILIFF moves the wheelbarrow toward the SOLICITOR GENERAL and scoops him up into it; the book falls to the ground. The BAILIFF picks up the book and remaining bookmarks and hands them to the SOLICITOR GENERAL)

JUDGE: Bailiff, why don’t you and I take a break and go have a cold beer. Court is in recess for fifteen minutes.

(They walk off as the SOLICITOR GENERAL attempts to get out of the wheelbarrow; unsuccessful, he sits back and flips through the pages, inserts a bookmark here and there, and continues looking)

SOLICITOR GENERAL (mumbling to himself): It’s here somewhere.

(The JUDGE and the BAILIFF return in fifteen or more minutes. The BAILIFF carries a ceramic beer stein, which he hands to the SOLICITOR GENERAL)


(He takes a sip and stops)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: What is this? I was expecting a cold beer.

BAILIFF: It’s lemonade.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Really, it’s somewhat weak.

BAILIFF: You can’t drink alcohol in the courtroom.

JUDGE: Court’s in session. Counsellor, have you found your citation?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Yes, Your Excellency. Section 803.3(A) of the Compendium.

JUDGE: Counsellor, you must stand to address the Court.

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL struggles to get out of the wheelbarrow without success)

JUDGE: Bailiff, help the SOLICITOR GENERAL out of the witness box.

(The BAILIFF tips the wheelbarrow forward and the SOLICITOR GENERAL climbs out)

SOLICITOR GENERAL (dusting himself off): My new suit; it’s all dirty.

JUDGE: No problem. You don’t have to look presentable out here. Let’s have your citation.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I just gave it to you.

JUDGE: You were not before the court when you spoke.

BAILIFF: You were in the witness box.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Very well, I again cite Section 803.3(A) of the Compendium.

JUDGE: Counsellor, the Compendium has no standing as law, although the Court may give due deference to the opinions of the U.S. Copyright Office if you wish to offer the Compendium into evidence.

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL hands the Compendium to the BAILIFF)

JUDGE: So entered.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I request that the Court rule that the first composition is not subject to copyright because it has only basic sounds that are not music; there is absolutely no creative expression whatsoever.

JUDGE: Denied. The motion is redundant as worded.


JUDGE: Absolutely and whatsoever are redundant.  You can use one or the other, not both.

BAILIFF: His Excellency was an English teacher before he became a judge.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I don’t believe it.

BAILIFF: It’s true.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I wasn’t talking to you.

BAILIFF: Talking to yourself again; I had better write that down.

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL turns away and ignores the BAILIFF)

JUDGE: Counsellor, do you wish to restate your motion?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Yes, Your Excellency.  I make a motion for the Court to rule that the first so-called composition is not subject to copyright protection because the sounds are not musical and have no creative expression whatsoever.

JUDGE: Motion granted. Bailiff, play the next one.

(He bangs the gavel. The next recording includes branches creaking and swaying in the background, together with the sound of pine cones dropping and repeatedly landing on an abandoned piece of sheet metal at the base of the tree)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I would like to…


SOLICITOR GENERAL: You can’t object; I haven’t said anything yet.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: My witness should be recalled first.

JUDGE: Objection sustained. Bailiff, move the witness stand back over here.

(The BAILIFF moves the wheelbarrow close to the fence and the RAVEN hops back on one of the handles)

JUDGE: Raven, you are still under oath. Counsellor, you may proceed.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Raven, you just listened to the Plaintiff’s second musical composition.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Objection. Counsel is leading the witness. It has not been established that these sounds are music.

JUDGE: Sustained.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Raven, in your personal, non-expert opinion, what do you consider the sounds you just heard to be?

RAVEN: It’s music to my ears.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Nonsense. There is no creativity to it.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Not true at all. The tree, unassisted and by its own action, is dropping pine cones (onto a piece of metal) at repeated but intermittent intervals, creating a syncopated rhythm, much like a drum solo.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: It is not music in my opinion.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Objection. You are not an expert witness.

JUDGE: Sustained.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: But I do have a right to a personal opinion, just like your witness.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Of course, but do you actually listen to music?


PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: That’s not an answer. It’s a yes or no question.


PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: What is your favourite type of music?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Classical—chamber music in particular.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Something by Haydn or Mozart I suppose. Do you have a preference?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Haydn’s string quartet Op. 20 … Say, why are we talking about what kind of music I like?

JUDGE: Counsellor, is this going anywhere relevant to the case?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Yes, as my next question will show.

JUDGE: Very well, proceed.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY (to SOLICITOR GENERAL): Do you like ragtime music?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Are you kidding?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I take that as a no.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: It is just a lot of unorganised noise flying about in the air.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: You apparently agree with Judge Learned Hand’s opinion of ragtime.


PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Then, you must agree with Judge Hand’s statement in Hein v. Harris that copyright law protects musical works without any merit or originality. So, what’s your problem with a copyright for Plaintiff’s second work?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: That was a trick question.

JUDGE: Yes, but well done.

BAILIFF: You stepped in it that time.

JUDGE: Bailiff, you need not state the obvious.

BAILIFF: Sorry, Your Excellency.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I ask the Court to rule that the sounds in the second composition reveal no creativity and are not copyrightable.

JUDGE: I will reserve judgment for now, but the Plaintiff’s composition does resemble a drum solo. Bailiff, play the last composition.

(The BAILIFF plays the third work, predominantly a whistling sound, shrill at times, with a wide range that keeps changing as the wind blows through a hole in a large branch; birds sing in the background)

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Raven, please give us your opinion, not as an expert witness but as a personal opinion, as to the merits of the composition we just enjoyed.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Objection to enjoyed.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: You didn’t enjoy it?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: That’s not the point. Enjoyed gives undue merit as to the quality of the sounds.

JUDGE: Sustained.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Raven, please give us your opinion, not as an expert witness but as a personal opinion, as to the merits of the composition we just listened to, whether or not you enjoyed it.

RAVEN: I especially liked the birds singing in the background.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Aha! If, and I say if, the Plaintiff is an author, then it follows that the birds singing in the background are joint authors. They have not been included as plaintiffs so I ask for dismissal on the basis that not all necessary parties are before the Court.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Objection. The birds singing in the background are not making a substantial creative contribution to the work, so they cannot be joint authors. They are similar to non-featured background singers who appear with a lead singer; they are not joint authors.

JUDGE (to SOLICITOR GENERAL): You have not established that the birds are necessary parties under Rule 19(a). Dismissal denied.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Raven, aside from the birds singing in the background, did you find the composition musical, in your personal opinion?

RAVEN: Very much so.



JUDGE: Sustained.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: No further questions.

(The RAVEN flaps its wings and rises a bit into the air)

JUDGE: Just a minute, Raven.

(He turns to the SOLICITOR GENERAL)

JUDGE: Did you wish to cross-examine the witness?


(The RAVEN perches on the wheelbarrow handles, jumping back and forth from one to the other)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Raven, do you spend all of your time resting on the branches of the Plaintiff.

RAVEN: No, I fly quite a wide area and hang about here and there.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: So you are familiar with the sounds of many different trees.


SOLICITOR GENERAL: Would you describe most of these sounds as noise rather than music?

RAVEN: Not really.


JUDGE: You can’t object to your own question.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Do you know what a scherzo is, or a sonata?

RAVEN: Italian food?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: What about Schumann and Mendelssohn’s fugues?

RAVEN: Did they get in a fight?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Have you ever listened to the piano concertos of Franz Liszt or Frederic Chopin.

RAVEN: I’ve never seen a piano out here in the cow pasture, much less heard one. It would not be a good idea, especially in the rainy season.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Never mind. Let’s try one last time. Are you familiar with Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings or Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor?

RAVEN: Can’t say that I am.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Then you are not familiar with the sound of real music?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Objection. Raven has obviously heard what the Solicitor General would have to concede is “real” music. Farm hands whistle and sing as they go about their daily choirs, sometimes playing music on their radios outdoors. Everyone knows that cows are more relaxed and produce more milk when listening to soothing music.

BAILIFF: Not everyone.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Almost everyone. I can hear music coming from the barn right now.

SOLICITOR GENERAL (shaking his head): It is Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp in D Major.

RAVEN: If you say so. I didn’t know what it was but I have heard it before while sitting atop the barn.

JUDGE: Any further questions?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: What good would it do?

JUDGE: Bailiff, play that third composition again. I want to focus more on the whistling sounds and tune out the birds in the background.

(They all listen again)

RAVEN: Sounds like music to me.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: No one asked you.  Your Excellency, I ask that the court strike this statement of the crow from the record.

RAVEN: Who you calling a crow, bozo?

(The RAVEN flies above, buzzing round the head of the SOLICITOR GENERAL, which fortunately is protected by the dunce cap. However, we hear a SPLAT just before the RAVEN flies off)

JUDGE: Order in the Court.

(He pounds his gavel on the metal drum repeatedly)

JUDGE (continuing): I will reserve judgment for now, but the whistling sound does resemble music.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: With all due respect, Your Excellency, the wind would seem to be the author of the whistling sound, not the tree, or alternatively a joint author.

JUDGE (to SOLICITOR GENERAL): Assuming that the Plaintiff, a tree, qualifies as an author, does the wind consider itself as a joint author?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I have no idea.

JUDGE: You brought it up. If you don’t know, are you prepared to present a witness?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Do you mean the wind?

JUDGE: Obviously.

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL takes off the dunce cap and waives it in the air in total frustration)

JUDGE: Bailiff.

(The BAILIFF moves forward, takes the dunce cap by the edges and places it back on the SOLICITOR GENERAL’s head, very securely)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Ouch, that hurts.

JUDGE: Are you making a complaint about the Bailiff? He’s my wife’s cousin.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: No, absolutely not … Your Excellency.

JUDGE: Now, where were we?

SOLICITOR GENERAL (to himself): In a cow pasture in the middle of nowhere.

JUDGE: What’s that Counsellor? You will have to speak up.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Nothing, Your Excellency; just mumbling to myself. I don’t recall what I said.

JUDGE: Bailiff, make a note. Defendant’s counsel talks to himself and has memory problems.

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL raises his arm to look at his watch, which is not there)

JUDGE: I hope you are not looking to see what time it is?

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL starts scratching his wrist vigorously)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: No, Your Excellency. I just got a sudden itch.

JUDGE: Very well. Let’s continue.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I would like to make a motion for dismissal for failure to join a necessary party.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: You already made that motion.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: That was for the birds.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Certainly was.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I am referring to the wind as a joint author this time. I move for dismissal with respect to the third composition for failure join a necessary party.

JUDGE: Do you have any evidence to introduce that the wind intended to be a joint author?


JUDGE: Motion to dismiss for failure to join a necessary party denied.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: The wind does not really need to be a joint author because the wind created the whistling sounds, not the Plaintiff.

JUDGE: Maybe it is time to question the Plaintiff.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: As the Court has already noted, the Plaintiff has a physical disability (being rooted to the ground), and cannot take the witness stand.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: No one is going to believe this when I get back to Washington.

BAILIFF: Don’t tell anyone.

JUDGE: If the Plaintiff cannot come to the courthouse, the Court will go to the Plaintiff. Bailiff, redraw the perimeter of the courtroom.

(The BAILIFF goes to the barn, returns with the chalk machine and pushes it along to enclose the Plaintiff within the boundaries of the courtroom. The JUDGE slides down the rail fence, sits closer to the PLAINTIFF, shaded by its branches, and waits for the BAILIFF to return)

JUDGE: Swear in the witness.

(The BAILIFF holds up a branch of the tree, looks around and drops it)

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I will take the oath on behalf of my client.

JUDGE: That will not be necessary. We will just consider the witness sworn.

JUDGE (to SOLICITOR GENERAL): Counsellor, do you wish to ask the witness any questions.

SOLICITOR GENERAL (to PLAINTIFF): I would like to know if you did anything to cause the sounds that we heard in the compositions. If not, the sole creator must be the wind.

(He stares at the tree, then looks around at everyone else)

SOLICITOR GENERAL (continuing): I must be crazy. I am talking to a tree.

BAILIFF: Better than talking to yourself.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I make a motion for summary judgment to dismiss compositions two and three on the basis that the Plaintiff itself took no action in the creation of the works and therefore cannot be an author.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Objection. A tree drops its pine cones on its own initiative after the pine cones release their pollen or seeds, not in response to the wind.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: That is not necessarily true if it was quite windy that day.

JUDGE: That is a question of fact for the jury. Motion to dismiss denied as to the second composition.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: While we believe that the Plaintiff is the sole author of the third composition, it seems that we have the same question of fact as to the wind’s involvement.

JUDGE: Correct. Motion to dismiss also denied as to the third composition. Jury trial is set for the 13th of next month, right here in this courtroom. Court adjourned.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: I think I have tickets for a string quartet on that date.

JUDGE: Too bad, I guess you will just have to miss it. Look at the bright side. You will be able to hear Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp in D Major from the barn.

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL looks at his wrist for the time)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Where is my watch?

BAILIFF: In your pocket.

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL takes the Patek Philippe from his pocket, fastens it to his wrist and looks at the time)

SOLICITOR GENERAL: It’s five fifteen.

BAILIFF: I have five fourteen.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: What difference does it make? I have already missed the five o’clock train to Washington.

JUDGE: There is a milk train leaves at ten p.m. if you do not mind several stops, or we could find you a motel room near the station. By the way, do not forget to return the dunce cap to the Bailiff.

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL hands the dunce cap to the BAILIFF, who drops it and shakes his hand)

BAILIFF: There’s bird shit on the dunce cap.

JUDGE (to SOLICITOR GENERAL): Counsellor, you will have to pay for cleaning. That will be five dollars.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: Let me give you a check.

(He reaches in one pocket after another and comes up empty each time)

SOLICITOR GENERAL (continuing): Sorry, Your Excellency, but I do not seem to have my checkbook on me.

JUDGE: No problem. You can give the Court some collateral.

BAILIFF: What about one of those expensive shoes?

SOLICITOR GENERAL: How am I supposed to walk in a cow pasture with one shoe?

JUDGE: Good point. Your watch will do.

SOLICITOR GENERAL: A Patek Philippe, for a lousy five-dollar cleaning bill? That’s ridiculous.

JUDGE: Not to this Court. You can get it back at the trial, if you remember to bring the five dollars.

(He motions to the BAILIFF, who approaches the SOLICITOR GENERAL. The SOLICITOR GENERAL holds his right hand over the watch, and they struggle until the BAILIFF removes the Patek Philippe and puts it on his own wrist)

SOLICITOR GENERAL (to JUDGE): You’re not going to let him wear it, are you? It must be kept in a safe place.

JUDGE: Not to worry. I’ll keep it in my sight at all times.

(He holds out his hand. The BAILIFF takes off the watch and hands it to the JUDGE, who (after removing his own watch) replaces it with the Patek Philippe)

JUDGE (to SOLICITOR GENERAL): You can borrow mine if you like.

(The SOLICITOR GENERAL turns away and stomps off across the cow pasture)





Published by:

Blog by Richard Heagy

Naruto: I want my royalties!

WARNING! If you have no sense of humour, stop reading. If you make it to the end of this article, you may learn quite a bit about copyright law.

The bruhaha all started when Wikimedia Commons refused to take down a selfie taken by an Indonesian monkey, actually a macaque. British wildlife photographer David Slater claimed that he owned the copyright to the photograph as his camera had been used. However, it appears that the macaque somehow got hold of the camera and took a now famous self-portrait (‘selfie’) baring his two large front teeth. Wikimedia refused Slater’s take-down request and claims that no one owns the copyright so that the photo is in the public domain. The US Copyright Office agrees and has updated its rules to say that it will not register a copyright for photos taken by animals. Compendium of U. S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition (2014), hereafter referred to as the Compendium. If you think this article is long, try reading all 1,288 pages of the Compendium. Subsequent to the filing of the lawsuit mentioned below (Naruto v. Slater), Slater asserted that the ‘monkey’ in the selfie is not Naruto, but a female named Ella. However, this article will refer to the celebrity in question as Naruto.

This of course led to numerous articles by lawyers and others about the applicability of copyright laws (primarily those of the United States, with some mention of the United Kingdom, Australia and even the UAE) to selfies (photographs) taken by monkeys and other animals. Not to be left out, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) added its two-bits by filing a lawsuit against the British photographer (David Slater), his UK company (Wildlife Personalities Limited) and his US publisher (Blurb, Inc.) for damages on behalf of the monkey (dubbed ‘Naruto’), claiming that Naruto owns the copyright to the selfie. The suit was filed on behalf of Naruto by PETA and Dr. Antje Engelhardt (a German primatologist who has studied Sula crested macaques for several years) as Next Friends. A cynic might speculate that PETA filed such a frivolous lawsuit to gain publicity, but do not forget—strange results can happen in the Ninth Circuit. PETA also asked for a court order allowing it to administer all proceeds from the photos for the benefit of Naruto, his family and his community, including preservation of their habitat. Any such administrator would have to act in a fiduciary capacity on behalf of the copyright owner—Naruto; any funds spent for family or others in the community would appear to be a breach of fiduciary duty. This aspect has apparently been overlooked by PETA and its lawyers.


The complaint also asked for a jury trial. If Defendant files a countersuit, Naruto could ask for a jury of his peers, which he might argue should require macaques (or at least monkeys) on the jury. Undoubtedly, someone would step forward to provide translation services, another opportunity for PETA to do more good works. Although this right is generally restricted to criminal trials, it would be criminal not to apply it here, especially in the Ninth Circuit, where strange things often happen; also, the seventh Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial in certain civil cases. Courts have interpreted this to mean a right to an impartial jury chosen from a cross-section or broad spectrum of the community. Application of this rule means that jury selection must be non-discriminatory and cannot exclude a group of which the defendant is a member (monkeys in this case). On the other hand, a defendant is not entitled to have a member of his or her class on the jury. Thus, Naruto could not insist that a jury include a monkey.

How could anyone consider this to be frivolous litigation when the good people at PETA are willing to take on the arduous task of managing Naruto’s money on his behalf; not an easy burden in these days of meagre returns at best and gyrations in the securities and commodities markets. In support of PETA, if you look into the large orange-red eyes of Naruto in the selfie, although he is grinning, he is clearly saying ‘I want my royalties’.


This photo has ‘personality’ written all over it, so one might suggest registration of Naruto’s image under The Image Rights (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Ordinance (2012). Although few would deny that Naruto has personality, he does not meet the definition of a personnage (i.e., a natural person, defined as a human being; a legal person; or a fictional character of a human or non-human) stated in Section 1 of the Ordinance. However, this obstacle was overcome by using Slaters’s company instead. On October 31, 2014 the name ‘Wildlife Personalities Limited’ was filed as a ‘registered personality’, together with the registration of three images. One is the representative photograph of the registered personality, which gives the appearance of being a rectangular shaped logo, containing a photo of Naruto (unnamed) with the words ‘Wildlife Personalities.’ The other two images consist of the same photo of Naruto in the logo and one of another macaque, both unnamed in the filings.

Registration protects the commercial use of personalities and images and extends to unregistered images associated with a registered personality, so that it would cover additional macaque photos owned by Wildlife Personalities. The Ordinance protects against unauthorised use of protected images for commercial or financial purposes and has several exceptions, including fair dealing for the purposes of news reporting, commentary and satire. Subject to the foregoing exceptions the image of Naruto is protected under the Guernsey Ordinance, but it remains to be seen to what extent the provisions of this unique law will be enforceable outside of Guernsey.


Getting back to the case at hand, the first question should be what law applies—substantive and procedural—as the parties span the globe. PETA, a Virginia corporation, together with Dr. Antje Engelhardt, has filed suit in a US District Court in California on behalf of a monkey last known to be living in Indonesia, for copyright violation of selfies taken by a monkey in Indonesia, against British photographer David Slater and his publisher Blurb, Inc. (a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in San Francisco), and thrown in for good measure (as lawyers tend to do) a UK limited company (Wildlife Personalities, Ltd) owned by Slater, with no apparent US contacts. Why wasn’t Wikimedia Commons also listed as a defendant? What we have here is a bowl of animal crackers with elements of the Marx Brothers.

Naruto’s ‘Complaint for Copyright Infringement’ alleges that Naruto made the monkey selfies in Sulawesi, Indonesia, that none of these images is a ‘United States Work’, and therefore no US copyright registration is required to maintain the action. The case should have been tossed out right there for failing to plead sufficiently, as the crutial point is where the selfie was first published, not where it was made. In order to ‘not be a United States Work’ the plaintiff is required to plead that the selfie was first ‘published’ (not made) outside the United States, which as it turns out was the United Kingdom. ‘Once the plaintiff has proven publication, he must then prove that the publication was, in fact, the first publication, and that the geographic extent of his first publication diverges from the statutory definition of a “United States Work”’. Kernel Records Oy v. Mosley 934 F.3d 1294 (11th Cir. 2012). You might think this would prompt someone to consider which copyright law should apply, but apparently not; very few of the ‘monkey selfie’ articles mention the question of jurisdiction or applicable law.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the basis of lack of standing and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, but did not request dismissal on the grounds of forum non conveniens, the proper forum being Indonesia on the basis that its copyright law should apply rather than US copyright law. Halo Creative & Design Ltd. v. Comptoir Des Indes, Inc., No. 15-1375 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 14, 2016). Aside from creativity or originality requirements, copyright comes into existence immediately upon an author taking a picture with a camera as it then becomes fixed in a tangible medium—the photo having been taken in Indonesia. Defendants’ motion also failed to request dismissal based on lack of personal jurisdiction—discussed below.


The District Court in Naruto v. Slater did not need Spiderman to stretch its long-arm jurisdiction from San Francisco to London (and then backtrack to Wales). It is not well-known, but federal and state judges in the Ninth Circuit not only have law clerks, but have ready access to chiropractors to alleviate the symptoms caused by frequent long-arm stretching.

The plaintiffs alleged that the District Court had subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1338(a)  based on the suit arising under US copyright law, not mentioning an alternative basis for jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship under § 1332, which might have made some interesting commentary and would have required a finding that Naruto was a citizen or subject of a foreign state (Indonesia), keeping in mind that the plaintiff was Naruto, not PETA or Dr. Engelhardt (merely Next Friends).

There is no federal statute governing personal jurisdiction concerning copyright law, hence the law of the state in which the district court sits—California—applies. Kip Rano v. Sipa Press, Inc. 987 F.2d 580 (9th Cir. 1993), which also states that litigation against an alien defendant requires a higher jurisdictional barrier than litigation against a citizen of a sister state. California has adopted a typical long-arm statute, rendering jurisdiction coextensive with the outer limits of due process. Data Disc v. System Tech Assoc., 557 F.2d 1280 (9th Cir. 1977). The district court apparently accepted Plaintiffs’ assertion (without discussion) that it had personal jurisdiction over Slater and Wildlife Personalities Limited (a UK company) based on allegations that a substantial part of their infringing conduct occurred in its judicial district. Personal jurisdiction over Blurb, Inc. was based on the location of its principal place of business and its alleged copyright infringement occurring in the judicial district.

On a motion to dismiss all factual allegations set forth in the complaint are taken as true and construed in the light most favourable to the plaintiff. Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668 (9th Cir. 2008). Although the district court in Naruto v. Slater stated that the ‘court is not required to accept as true “allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences”,’ it seems to have ignored such conclusory allegations.


The assertion of personal jurisdiction over David Slater (a resident of the United Kingdom) based on an allegation that a ‘substantial part’ of his infringing conduct occurred ‘in this judicial district’ (Northern California) is unsupported by any factual allegations. Slater is an internationally known wildlife photographer located in the United Kingdom who sells images—not books—online from his UK website ( to customers around the world; the statement that a substantial part of his infringement (selling photos) in Northern California seems quite a stretch, but maybe not in the Ninth Circuit. Sales of these images occur in the UK either upon electronic transmission, not upon delivery in California or elsewhere, or upon shipment of prints from the UK. Jurisdiction over Slater insofar as relying on the infringement occurring in California is also questionable in light of the recent decision in Pablo Star Ltd. v. The Welsh Government (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 16. 2016).

The book distribution agreement between Blurb and Slater grants Blurb a non-exclusive license to reproduce, display, modify and reformat the content of a book—‘Wildlife Personalities’—that contains photos of Naruto for purposes of printing, distribution and making it available through the Blurb Bookstore. Customers who buy the book through the Bookstore are deemed to be Blurb’s customers, not Slater’s. Although Blurb’s principal place of business is in California, it—not Slater—sells books online to purchasers, some of whom may be in California. He is not engaging in any infringing activity by selling books in California; Slater is receiving royalties from an independent contractor under a mere licensing agreement which is non-exclusive. Even the existence of an exclusive license agreement does not establish minimum contacts for purposes of personal jurisdiction without additional terms and conditions beyond the payment of royalties, such as granting both parties the right to litigate infringement cases or granting the licensor the right to exercise control over the licensee’s sales or marketing activities. Breckenridge Pharm., Inc. v. Metabolite Labs, Inc., 444 F. 3d 1356 (2006). Blurb is not Slater’s agent as he exercises no control over Blurb or its marketing policies; therefore its activities in California should not be imputed to Slater for jurisdictional purposes. Armstrong v. Virgin Records, Ltd., 91 F. Supp. 2d 628 (2000).


The District Court in effect accepted jurisdiction and granted the motion to dismiss so let us move on to substantive law, which is more important to this discussion. First, let us dispose of Indonesian copyright law. Paragraph 2 of Article 1 states: Author shall mean a person or several persons jointly upon whose inspiration a Work is produced, based on the intellectual ability, imagination, dexterity, skill or expertise manifested in a distinct form and is of a personal nature. The Indonesian Copyright Act does not define ‘person,’ but to start with it cannot include a legal entity in view of the wording of Paragraph 11, which defines a Producer of a Phonogram as a person or legal corporate body. Paragraph 14, which uses the words ‘his/her works’ in reference to the rights obtained from a ‘Copyright Holder’ by a licensee, supports the interpretation that the term ‘person’ should be restricted to ‘individuals.’ Stronger support is found in Paragraph 3 of Article 10, which refers to ‘any person who is not a citizen of Indonesia,’ with respect to permission concerning certain Works owned by the Indonesian Government. Sorry, Naruto, but it looks like your homeland will not treat you as an author.


Next, let us consider UK copyright law, which provided under the 1956 Copyright Act that the author of a photograph was the person who at the time the photograph was taken ‘owned the material on which it was taken’ but unfortunately for Slater this is no longer UK law.

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (the ‘CDPA’) states in section 9 (1): In this Part ‘author’, in relation to a work, means the person who creates it. ‘Person’ is not defined, but common definitions in a business or legal context generally include an individual, body corporate, partnership, etc. The last support for the position that animals may not be authors (and thus not copyright owners) under UK copyright law is found in Section 154 (1), which provides copyright protection for qualified authors (e.g., a British citizen, an individual domiciled or resident in the UK, or a body corporate, etc.).

Fact sheet P-01: UK Copyright Law of the UK Copyright Service states that ‘To qualify, a work should be regarded as original, and exhibit a degree of labour, skill or judgment’. Unlike the US, creativity is not required for originality in the UK. The IPO has indicated that under UK law animals cannot own copyrights, but left open the ownership question as to the photographer in the case of animal selfies.


It has been suggested that a photographer may be able to claim UK copyright of animal selfies based on computer-generated art (depending on the circumstances), which would require the use of a digital camera rather than an old-fashioned camera with a roll of film. Before considering this possibility we must first review the rules governing the copyright of photographs under UK copyright law.

Copyright exists for original artistic works under the CDPA, which in section 4 (1) (a) defines ‘artistic work’ as ‘a graphic work, photograph, sculpture or collage irrespective of artistic quality.’ CDPA section 4 (2) states: ‘Photograph’ means a ‘recording of light or other radiation on any medium on which an image is produced or from which an image may by any means be produced, and which is not part of a film.’

Section 9 (3) of the CDPA states: In the case of literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work which is computer generated, the author shall be taken to be the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work are undertaken. Section 178 defines computer-generated work as work generated by a computer in circumstances such that there is no human author of it, thus by implication excluding computer-aided work. Although Sections 9 (3) and 178 of the CDPA refer to ‘computer-generated’ works, it is the software, not the computer, which creates the works. Thus, undue emphasis should not be placed on the word ‘computer.’ Digital cameras, like printers and scanners, are in effect special-purpose computers, which have internally stored firmware, similar to software in a computer. It should not be that difficult to justify pictures taken by a digital camera as being computer-generated, with the author (under UK law) being the person who makes the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work. Possibly helpful to Slater, depending on his involvement, but not Naruto.


Before we leave the topic of photographs taken by digital cameras qualifying for copyright protection as computer-generated work, it is important to note that the copyright period is only 50 years, compared to the life of the author plus 70 years for work qualifying as a ‘photograph’ under  CDPA section 4 (2). This difference might cause classification problems in some situations, depending on the circumstances under which the work was created, as to whether a particular work would be entitled to protection for the life of the author plus 70 years or only 50 years.


The discussion must necessarily move on to US copyright law, which is the focus of Naruto v. Slater and the endless flow of articles that has resulted. In order for a work to be protected under US copyright law, it must be an original creation of an author and be fixed in a tangible medium of expression (such as a computer file or written on a piece of paper, for which a paper napkin in a bar or restaurant will do). Not much is required as far as originality is concerned, meaning merely that the material is original as to the author and has not been copied from someone else’s work. Creativity (even if mediocre and lacking in quality) is sometimes also mentioned as a requirement in the US, as well as some intellectual endeavour, which is where animals seem to fail the requirements of being authors.

In Hein v. Harris 175 F. 875 (C.C.S.D.N.Y. 1910), aff’d 183 Fed. 107 (2d Cir. 1923), a copyright infringement case in which Arab Love Song was compared to I Think I Hear a Woodpecker, Judge Learned Hand stated: ‘The lack of originality and musical merit in both songs is of no consequence. While the public taste continues to give pecuniary value to a composition of no artistic excellence, the court must continue to recognize the value so created’.


In its appeal to the Ninth Circuit, Plaintiffs complain that the district court departed from the well-established norm that every photograph is entitled to copyright protection, citing Ets-Hokin v. Skyy Spirits, Inc, 225 F.3d 1068 (9th Cir. 2000), and that all photographs are sufficiently original by their nature to merit copyright protection. Los Angeles News Service v. Tullo, 973 F.2d 791 (9th Cir. 1992). The focus of these statements is whether photographs meet the low threshold of originality for copyright protection. These statements, standing alone are not the law. For copyright protection, a photograph must have an author. Upon climbing to the top of a steep rocky mountain, a hiker needing to catch his or her breath may remove a backpack and place a camera on the ground or upon a rock. If a gust of wind sweeps up the camera  and it bounces down the mountainside, snapping pictures each time its button hits a rock at just the right angle, the resulting photographs may be original but will have no author and therefore no copyright protection, although someone—not mentioning any names—might come forward and claim the wind as the author.


The term ‘author’ is not defined in the US copyright statute, but the opinion of the US Copyright Office is that an author must be a human, as discussed further below. Under UK copyright law the ‘author’ is the ‘person’ who creates the work, subject to special rules for motion pictures, sound recordings, etc.  As previously stated, ‘person’ is not defined in the UK statute either, but the ordinary meaning of persons in a business or legal context often includes individuals, corporations and other entities, but not animals. Under both US and UK law, any work that does not have an author is considered by default to be in the public domain.


The US Copyright Office sets forth several general rules in Chapter 300 of its Compendium regarding copyrightable authorship and what can be registered, or more accurately, what it is willing to register. Sec. 306 states an overall rule that the US Copyright Office will register an original work of authorship only if created by a human being. It also states that copyright law only protects ‘the fruits of intellectual labour’ that ‘are founded in the creative powers of the mind’, citing Trade-Mark Cases, 111 U.S. 53, 58 (1884). Sec. 313.2 states that the ‘Office will not register works produced by nature, animals or plants’, including (under the examples) a photograph taken by a monkey or a mural painted by an elephant. This article will return to elephant paintings later. Notwithstanding these pronouncements, this does not mean that a photograph taken by an animal may not be copyrighted by a human being under any circumstances whatsoever; see further discussion below, citing Compendium Sec. 802.5(C).

In discussing visual arts, which include photographs and paintings, Sec. 906 states that works not created by a human being are not eligible for copyright protection, a refrain inserted repeatedly throughout the Compendium. Perhaps the US Copyright Office believes in the old adage that if you repeat something enough times everyone will believe it without question. The Compendium is not a law; it contains the rules for registering copyrights, based on the interpretation of the copyright statute by the US copyright Office and court cases cited in the Compendium. Although the courts give deference to the regulations and opinions of the US Copyright office, the question is still before the courts as PETA has appealed its case to the Ninth Circuit, and may not stop there. However, until former US Supreme Court Justice Scalia is replaced we can expect to see more tied (four to four) decisions. PETA might want to look into the background of any potential Supreme Court nominee and support someone who is an animal rights enthusiast, or who at least owns a pet (preferably something larger than a goldfish).


Sec. 807(C) states that a motion picture must contain creative human authorship, and that a chimpanzee is not an author where it picks up a video camera, inadvertently turns it on and records images.  Note the word ‘inadvertently.’ Chimpanzee videos (where a chimpanzee is directed to use a video camera instead of picking it up inadvertently) might be copyrighted by someone other than the animal, such as a human who participated sufficiently in the work’s creation so as to qualify as its author, provided that the work meets the originality and creative requirements for copyright.


Assuming for argument that Naruto is the author of his selfies, could Slater be considered as a joint author? A joint work is one created by two or more co-authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable parts of a unitary whole (US) or that the contribution of each author is not distinct (UK).  Each one must contribute copyrightable subject matter to the work; one who merely contributes ideas is not a joint author. The selfie cannot be considered as a joint work, making the photographer a co-author, because Slater, unlike Naruto, participated in none of the actions that resulted in the taking of the selfie. In addition, there was no intention between them to be co-authors.


In contrast to selfies, there are numerous examples of paintings created by animals: Congo, a chimpanzee; Kissu, the horse; and Ruby, the elephant. These may involve more effort than merely swishing a brush at a canvass, but the results are generally considered to be in the public domain. The owner of such an animal might be able to claim authorship if he or she sufficiently directed the actions of the animal in creating a painting. For example, the creative input of the animal’s owner might include selecting the colours of paint, changing the position of a canvass during the creation of the painting, and directing the animal to start, stop and resume painting until the owner deems the project finished. On the other hand, disregarding the ‘human being’ requirement, an elephant may be able to provide creative input in some cases. An example might be where six buckets of paint are set out near a canvass, each a different colour, with a separate brush in each bucket; without human prompting the elephant would pick up a brush from a bucket of its choosing, paint for awhile and then try another color until it decided to stop painting. It might even choose not to use all of the colours. If PETA’s theory is correct, the elephant in such cases would be an author and own the copyright. Contrast that scenario with some of the animals in elephant centres in Indonesia, where elephant creativity appears to be lacking as they paint the same picture over and over (suggesting training). Similar to leading a witness in a trial, the mahouts (trainers) apparently tug the ear of the elephant up, down or sideways, resulting in the elephant moving the paintbrush in a corresponding direction on the canvass.


There is another possible way for an owner to claim authorship of artwork created by animals—the ‘work-made-for-hire’ doctrine. The ‘author’ is the owner of the copyright, unless it involves work-made-for-hire. A ‘work-made-for-hire’ is (1) a work made by an employee for his or her employer, or (2) a work (limited to nine specific categories, including contributions to a collective work, supplemental work or compilation) made by an independent contractor if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed in advance that the work shall be considered as a ‘work-made-for-hire’.

An animal cannot be an employee, even if owned by an individual, and is excluded by the use of the words ‘his or her employer’ in clause (1). That leaves the independent contractor route under clause (2), the wording of which is not specifically restricted to individuals. On the other hand, Sec. 802.5(C) of the Compendium states: ‘To be copyrightable, musical works, like all works of authorship, must be of human origin’. However, compare Urania Foundation v. Maaherra, 114 F.3d 955 (1997) in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that the copyright laws do not expressly require ‘human’ authorship, but that some element of human creativity must have occurred for a work to be copyrightable. The case involved copyright to a book allegedly authored by celestial beings and transcribed by mere mortals, a most appropriate case for the Ninth Circuit.

Actors often form wholly owned corporations (or limited liability companies) which act as loan-out companies to contract out their services to motion picture production companies. The loan-out company acts as an independent contractor in providing services to the production company, usually those of its sole owner. A client could be deemed to be the author of a painting under a work-for-hire contract with a loan-out company which used one of its employees to create the painting if the work fell within one of the nine work-for-hire categories.

There is no rule which states that the services provided by a loan-out company must be provided by its own ‘employees’, although such an assumption is made in the second example under Sec. 802.8(E) of the Compendium, discussed below, where the author is listed as an LLC with respect to musical works created as works made for hire. Art works are not one of the nine categories listed as a work for hire under clause (2); therefore, a painting—by an animal or a human—must fall under one of the nine specified categories to be a work for hire by an independent contractor. The most likely categories would be as a ‘contribution to a collective work’, a ‘supplementary work’, or a ‘compilation’. The use of loan-out companies for musical animals is discussed below.


Assuming that PETA is correct—that animals may be authors and owners of their selfies—there are additional issues which to date have been overlooked and require consideration. Copyright protection varies depending on the type of work and the country. For photographs, the period (in the US) is the life of the author plus 70 years or 95 years from publication for a ‘work-made-for-hire’. Unlike UK and EU laws, the US Copyright Act allows authors or certain heirs to reclaim their copyrights by terminating publishers’ or licensees’ rights after 35 years (56 years for pre-1978 works) from the date of a published work, but only if the works are not works-made-for-hire. When a copyright owning animal dies, how do you determine or locate its heirs. Inasmuch as an animal is incapable of executing a will, there will be no executor, so it will be necessary for an administrator to be appointed by a court. Searching for the heirs may require substantial travel at the expense of the estate, which may end up with peanuts. If the heirs are monkeys, who will complain about such results? Such tedious travel around the globe (possibly through forests and mosquito infested jungles) in search of the heirs would no doubt justify the estate in paying for first-class airfare and hotel accommodations for the administrator, as well as foot massages.


Wait! There is one more consideration if an animal is an author: ‘Droit moral’ or ‘moral rights’. These include several types of rights, but the only relevant one is the right to object to derogatory treatment of a copyrighted work (known as the ‘right of integrity’), which prevents certain changes to the author’s work without permission. Thus, the selfies of Naruto (if the author) cannot be altered without his permission in jurisdictions where ‘droit moral’ is in force, which might prohibit publication of his photos in black and white as well as other changes without the author’s permission. This brings to mind the unsuccessful 1980’s objections from film directors over the colourization of their old black-and-white films; the US Copyright Office ruled that the copyright owner of a black-and-white film had the legal right to colourize it, the colourization being a derivative work with a separate copyright. Naruto would have better protection in France where in 1988 a French court prohibited the premiere TV broadcast of a colourized version of John Huston’s Asphalt Jungle based on the right of integrity under the French doctrine of droit moral.

In Europe, it is generally not possible for authors to assign or even waive their moral rights, but contracts often require the author not to enforce these rights. There may also be a requirement for the author to ‘assert’ these moral rights before they can be enforced.  In the United Kingdom, moral rights may be waived, but not assigned. No doubt, some well-intended group would step forward and be willing to assert, waive or assign an animal’s moral rights on its behalf when appropriate.


Enough about animals and selfies, especially monkeys who are hogging the limelight. Missing from the endless discussion of monkeys as authors is the possibility that other living things such as trees may be authors. Why not? Just because humans share more DNA with monkeys than with trees is no reason to discriminate against trees and deny them authorship. This area of discussion must necessarily focus on the copyright of music rather than literary property, photographs or paintings.


The copyright of music involves more aspects than the copyright of photographs, although the same general principals apply: authorship, originality, fixation, etc. There are two separate categories for music: musical works and sound recordings. Musical works are usually divided into lyrics (words) and melody, each with its own copyright, although a melody may exist without words. There may be more than one author, as where one person writes the lyrics and another the melody, or both may be written by the same person. A separate copyright exists in the sound recording, although permission (generally in the form of a mechanical license) must be obtained from the owner or owners of the musical work to record it. The producer of the sound recording is usually treated as the author, although the Compendium has more to say about this.

Going back to originality, although only a bare minimum of creativity is necessary, there is a similarity between the requirements for literary and musical works. Ideas may not be copyrighted, only the expression of ideas when fixed in tangible form. Similar to words and short phrases, which are not subject to copyright, mere sounds (such as those of a banjo) or a few musical notes standing alone cannot be copyrighted; only the expression of sounds, as in a musical composition, may be copyrighted. Regarding creative expression, Sec. 803.5(B) states in part: ‘Short sound recordings may lack a sufficient amount of authorship to be copyrightable (just as words and short textual phrases are not copyrightable)’.

Sound recordings are ‘works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds, but not including sounds accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work, regardless of the nature of the material objects, such as disks, tapes or other phonorecords, in which they are embodied’. 17 U.S.C. § 101. A series of musical, spoken, or other sounds requires a temporal succession of sounds rather than a single sound expressed horizontally or simultaneous sounds expressed vertically, such as in a chord. Compendium, Sec. 803.1. This would disqualify certain basic sounds of animals or trees.


Works that contain only a de minimis amount of original expression, such as a musical phrase of three notes or a sound recording consisting of a single tone, are not copyrightable. Compendium, Sec. 313.4(B). This is hardly the case with the Thai Elephant Orchestra in Lampang, Northern Thailand—a group of 14 Asian elephants. The elephants play on large gongs, drums, chimes, and metal and wooden marimba-like instruments, often using mallets of different sizes, and even large harmonicas. Elephants have a sense of rhythm and generally improvise as they play what they want; these seem to have minimal supervision by caretakers or trainers. You can watch a documentary about the Thai Elephant Orchestra, which includes performances, at []. It seems that most people who have heard the elephant orchestra consider their efforts to be music instead of noise, whether or not they like it. Justice Learned Hand (if he were alive) would no doubt reach the opposite conclusion if his opinion in Hein v. Harris is anything to go by—describing ‘rag-time’ as the lowest grade of the musical art.


Joint works are works prepared by two or more authors with the intention at the time of creation that their contributions merge into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole. If the authors did not intend for their separate elements to be merged into an interdependent whole, the separate copyrightable elements should be registered as separate works. Compendium, Sec. 801.6. Absent such intent, the elephants cannot qualify as joint authors, but they might qualify as individual authors of their relative contributions—works. Compendium Sec. 309 requires that the work contain at least a minimum amount of creative authorship that is original to the author. In this case, the contribution of each elephant must be tested separately. Some, or maybe none of them, might meet this requirement. However, the number of elephants may make the creative contribution of each one minimal and in any event difficult to measure. It is better to leave it at that and move on to sound recordings. The musical composition of the Thai Elephant Orchestra is a collaborative work, which overall, together with the creative input of the producer, should satisfy the copyright requirements for a sound recording (with the producer being its author).

We will skip music ownership (which may be divided among the composer of the lyrics and/or the melody, sheet music publishers, record labels, and performing rights) and concentrate on authorship. It should be noted that transcribing or fixing a musical work in and of itself does not constitute authorship. Compendium, Sec 802.8(B). This statement seems to conflict with the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Urania Foundation v. Maaherra (discussed above), which involved copyright to a book allegedly authored by celestial beings and transcribed by mere mortals.


There may be more than one author for a musical composition or sound recording. However, in the case of a sound recording the producer is usually treated as the author and the record label as the owner. Although it is possible for band members to be joint owners of a sound recording, usually they are under work-for-hire contracts or hired as employees, and are not joint authors. Other possible joint authors include (1) session musicians, who drop in (or are invited) to join a music session; (2) guest musicians, who may be invited up to the stage at a live performance; and (3) soloists who make a distinctive contribution to a performance. In the first two situations, session or guest musicians would have to make an important contribution to the session or performance to become joint authors and/or be entitled to a share of profits. Absent an intention of the parties to be joint authors, a share of profits still may be the best result that can be obtained. What if an elephant dropped in uninvited to a session of the Thai Elephant Orchestra and contributed a wonderful drum solo—royalties but not authorship?

Non-featured musicians (such as background singers) are not potential joint authors, as they generally do not make substantial creative contributions and the intent to be joint authors is missing; also, they usually work as employees. Under UK copyright law, the author of a sound recording is the producer, but the copyright owner is usually the person (often a record company) who pays for the recording. Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, Sec. 9 (2)(aa).

Compendium Section 803.3 states that there are two types of sound recording authorship—performance authorship and production authorship. Either one will require a minimum amount of creative authorship. Generally, both the performer and the producer of a sound recording of a musical performance or spoken word performance contribute copyrightable authorship to the sound recording. In some cases, however, the main or sole contribution may be production authorship (as in a recording of bird songs, where there is no human performance) or the main contribution may be performance authorship (as in a recorded performance where the only production involved is to push the “record” button). Examples of production authorship in a sound recording include capturing and manipulating sounds, and compiling and editing those sounds to make a final recording. On the other hand, an executive producer (limited to the financing and administration of a recording, rather than being creativly involved in the recording) is not an author under US copyright law.

Now that the basic copyright rules for musical compositions and sound recordings have been outlined, their application will be discussed in relation to the creation and authorship of works by animals and then trees. Yes, trees!


The Compendium states that ‘to be copyrightable, musical works, like all works of authorship, must be of human origin’ and that ‘a musical work created solely by an animal would not be registerable, such as a bird song or whale song’. Sec 802.5(C). Did you read the second statement too quickly and overlook the word solely? Animal songs can be copyrighted by someone other than the animal, such as a human who participated sufficiently in the work’s creation so as to qualify as its author, provided the work meets the originality and creative requirements for copyright.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the ‘author’ need not always be a human as an entity such as a corporation or LLC may be registered as the author of a work under one of the work-made-for-hire exceptions. Because animals cannot be employees, the second exception (discussed above) would have to be availed of—a work made by an independent contractor (using animals to create the musical sounds), if the parties agree in writing that the work will be considered as a ‘work-made-for-hire’.

Since musical works are not one of the nine categories listed in the work-made-for-hire definition, a musical work must fall under one of those categories to be considered a work-made-for-hire; the most likely categories would be as a ‘contribution to a collective work’, a ‘supplementary work’, or a ‘compilation’.  Compendium, Sec 802.8(E). The second example allows an applicant to identify an LLC as the author of music in the case of a work that is made for hire … and states that it appears that the company employs people to compose the music. However, there is no specific requirement in the Compendium that the independent contractor use employees or humans. Obviously this will not work with wild animals. See the discussion above concerning possible use of animals  by loan-out companies to create paintings. Therefore, it would seem that a loan-out company, which own or rent animals, could enter into a contract to provide services as an independent contractor to an individual who as a result, would be the author of any music or paintings made by the loaned-out animals. The only obstacle, other than possible complaints from animal rights groups, is that the commissioned work would have to fit into one of the nine categories that constitute works-made-for hire, no problem for a creative lawyer.


If PETA is correct that animals may be authors for copyright purposes, why should not other living things—such as trees—also qualify as authors in appropriate situations? Trees (as well as animals) have

been protected by various laws (e.g., the Forestry Reserve Act of 1897) over the years, so there is some basis that trees have rights. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, dissenting in Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 729 (1972), noted that inanimate objects are sometimes parties in litigation and asserted that natural resources, such as trees, ought to have standing to sue for their own protection. It does not make them humans, but trees do share some DNA with humans, although to a lesser extent than animals. Unlike monkeys, trees do not have brains but are capable of movement; they move towards light in response to phototropism. With respect to trees moving, consider Monty Python’s The Walking Tree of Dahomey, (a sketch with David Attenborough) in which the legendary walking tree of Dahomey—Quercus Nicholas Parsonus—walked over two thousand miles on its way to Cape Town. Proof of this feat is lacking unfortunately as Attenborough informs us that they have just missed the famous walking tree. Let us now turn to copyright law as it applies to trees.

The obvious category for trees is musical compositions. Because trees themselves are incapable of reducing their musical sounds to paper—ironic since paper comes from trees—the sounds can be fixed in permanent form only by capturing them in sound recordings. One might assume that musical compositions are usually first created by writing the lyrics and melody on a piece of paper or in a computer file, followed by a sound recording some time later. However, these steps can occur simultaneously, as where the song writer makes a sound recording the first time he or she performs the musical work (without having previously written it down). In this case, separate copyrights will result simultaneously, one or two for the musical composition—depending on whether or not the melody and lyrics are written by more than one person—and another for the sound recording. This would be the only method of fixation where a tree is the author, because there is no way to reduce the musical sounds of a tree to a fixed form prior to making a sound recording. The fact that a tree is incapable of independently creating a copyrighted musical composition “prior” to its recording is not relevant to its ultimate copyright; the recording simultaneously creates separate copyrights for the melody and another for the sound recording. There is no requirement that a sound recording be of an existing copyrighted musical composition. For example, in the case of a new recording of music in the public domain, only one work would be copyrighted—the new sound recording, not the underlying musical composition.

Whether or not the sounds of trees should be considered music or merely sound is not determinative because performance authorship includes ‘playing an instrument, singing, or speaking, or creating other sounds which are captured and fixed in a sound recording’. Compendium, Sec. 803.3(A). However, Sec. 802.5(B) states that to be copyrightable, ‘a musical work must contain a sufficient amount of creative expression’. Sec. 313.4(C) states: ‘short musical phrases consisting of only a few musical notes standing alone are not copyrightable’, and gives clock chimes as an example. Clock chimes repeat the same sound each time, whereas members of the Thai Elephant Orchestra (in contrast) produce a series of different musical sounds each time they move their trunks and hit a row of chimes.  

Trees make sounds: branches creak or break off; snow or ice may fall off branches; leaves rustle and branches sway in the wind; branches may make a noise returning to position as squirrels jump from one branch to the next; leaves or pine cones may fall to the ground or on a nearby tin roof. A whistling sound may occur as the wind blows through the branches, leaves, or holes in the tree. Although one can argue that some of these actions are the result of the wind, it must be remembered that the tree is a living thing and is reacting to the wind. At best, the wind might be a co-author, but cannot manifest its consent in writing and therefore must be disregarded, leaving (no pun intended) the tree as sole author of the sounds. This avoids the problem of locating the wind under UK copyright law, where all joint owners of copyrighted material must consent to its licensing.

Although most of these sounds may not rise to the level of musical compositions, sound recordings are not limited to music and may consist of other sounds. However, since some degree of creativity (though not artistic merit) is required it is probably best to disregard all tree sounds other than musical ones. Possible musical compositions might consist of a tree dropping its pine cones in a syncopated manner on a metal container resting at its base (similar to a drum solo), or a whistling melody as a tree bends its branches to allow the wind to pass. If this is a stretch of the imagination, such inspiration must have come from the Ninth Circuit. Continuing, we can disregard any birds singing in the background, as they are not making a substantial creative contribution to the work, similar to background singers who appear with a lead singer, although in their case this contingency is usually removed by contract.

Speaking or narration might be added to the sound recording to make it more interesting, with the result that the writer or narrator could become a joint author of a tree if the obstacle of joint authorship intention could be overcome. However, since there can be no such intent, at best they would be individual authors of their relative contributions.

PETA or some other organization could be appointed to collect the royalties for the trees in question, which might be a nice fit as monkeys often live in trees or at least swing from them. On the other hand, a conflict of interest might arise in representing both trees and monkeys. There could also be a conflict of interest for lawyers who provide legal representation for a tree and a human joint author. Lawyers should decide this question for themselves, as referral of the question to their state bar association might produce an unwanted response. Lawyers who want to expand their practice should probably limit representation to animals and not trees.


The District Court dismissed Naruto’s case on January 29, 2016 for lack of standing; however, PETA filed an appeal on behalf of Naruto to the Ninth Circuit on March 20, 2016. The lower court did not rule on Slater’s possible copyright ownership, or whether the selfie was in the public domain. They say that location is everything; the Ninth Circuit is the place to be if you are seeking a novel interpretation of copyright law, where going bananas and tossing copyright law on its head is not unheard of, if you remember Garcia v. Google (9th Cir. 2015). The odds may be better with the right three-judge panel if PETA can avoid a rehearing (en banc) by the full Court. If the case is decided against PETA (on behalf of Naruto), there may still be an interesting dissenting opinion or two. Then it’s probably off to see the Wizard—sorry—the US Supreme Court. It was recently reported that Dr. Antje Engelhardt has dropped out as one of Naruto’s Next Friends, which in hindsight becomes apparent from reading the appeal filed earlier this year in which the only Next Friend listed is PETA. This adds a new aspect to the case as a party necessary for standing in the district court is not participating in the appeal. It has been questioned whether PETA has standing as a sole Next Friend because, unlike Dr. Engelhardt (who it is alleged has studied Naruto since his birth), PETA did not allege any relationship with Naruto.


If you are not convinced that trees, as well as monkeys and other animals should be entitled to copyright protection as authors, I hope the theories discussed above have made your day more interesting than your usual reading. Anyone who considers these ideas frivolous must consider where we started—in the Ninth Circuit with Naruto v. Slater. On the other hand, you might be able to find some clients willing to try new things. Why not be the first to start a new trend. If not trees as clients, you might set up loan-out companies for clients who wish to use animals to paint or sing. The purchase and maintenance of an elephant by a client would be quite expensive, so attorneys might want to bone up on how to write a short-term lease agreement for a loan-out company to rent an elephant to a client, just in case. You will obviously want to include elephant insurance coverage, which may not be that difficult to obtain as a major insurance company is currently advertising on TV that it will insure just about anything.


What About My Royalties?


Satire Sketch


Published by:

Blog by Richard Heagy

After an all-day session hammering out the latest economic rescue proposal for Greece, if you could call a take or leave it deal a proposal, the meeting adjourned. The underlings leave the room, leaving only those who really matter: the Presidents of the European Council (‘TUSK’), the European Commission (‘JUNCKER’) and the European Central Bank (‘DRAGHI’), as well as the President of France (‘HOLLAND’) and the Chancellor of Germany (‘MERKEL’). It is late but many restaurants are still open—though only a few suitable to the standards of the esteemed group. It is ironic that the one they end up at is a Greek restaurant, fortunately one with a Michelin rating—only two stars, but sometimes sacrifices have to be made. The ensemble in elegant dress enters the restaurant where they fit in seamlessly with the other expensively dressed patrons and are ushered into one of the restaurant’s elegant private dining rooms.

Appropriate to their status, the meal commences with French champagne, followed by a choice of several house specialties: Roasted figs stuffed with feta cheese; Santorini Fava, with caramelised onions and black truffle vinaigrette, encircled with grilled octopus slices; Greek lamb quince stew; Fried sardines; and finally desert, Yogurt mouse with sour cherry preserves. Later, an after dinner aperitif—a sweet light wine with a unique but pleasant taste—is served by a surly waiter with unruly hair in a uniform that he must have borrowed from someone else. His eyes seem to radiate malice as he quickly refills their glasses. Unknown to them, and in spite of the rules that make it virtually impossible to fire employees of the European Union, he is the only employee known to have been fired by the EU. The effects of the aperitif are quickly realised as the diners motions slow; their speech slurs as they fall asleep in their chairs. They will eventually awaken, only to find themselves at a distant location.

A short time later the BUS DRIVER looks at his watch, then at the ancient Mercedes bus, one he had never seen or driven before. It was from another era, evidenced by its short stubby length and two-toned finish of blue and white (or was it once crème), or what was left of it. The elements had eaten into the finish, leaving ugly splotches of rust on the sides and top of the vehicle. Still in working order were large round headlights, one on either side of the round Mercedes emblem on the front. The windshield wipers had no doubt once worked, but the BUS DRIVER was not going to test them before he set out. No need to start with a negative omen; it wasn’t supposed to rain anyway.

The BUS DRIVER climbs aboard and counts his passengers—one woman with short hair and four gentlemen, or so they might be described if their manner of dress is any guide. The condition of the interior of the bus is no better than the outside, but the passengers do not notice as all are in a deep sleep. The engine sputters, then starts and the bus moves forward. That’s when the BUS DRIVER notices that there are no outside mirrors.

The bus drives for several hours, passing through a few towns before stopping at Katerini for gas; then it continues onward to Litichoro, the last small village at the foot of Mount Olympus before the journey is interrupted. The old Mercedes bus is travelling at a slow speed, but when it stops suddenly the passengers are thrown forward. Curses in sleepy voices break out in various languages. The bus driver looks through the front window and blows the horn several times without any response. Finally he opens the door, climbs out and approaches an object blocking the road—a wooden bathtub with a man crawled up inside.

DRIVER: What the bloody hell are you doing in the middle of the road?

DIOGENES: Waiting for the bus.

DRIVER: The bus doesn’t stop here.

DIOGNES: It just did.

DRIVER: Get that thing out of the way.

DIOGENES: Help me put it on the top of the bus; I’m going with you.

DRIVER: Certainly not.

DIOGENES: Then I am not moving.

(They stare at each other, neither wanting to budge first, until someone in the bus starts blowing the horn)

DRIVER: Oh, very well.

(DIOGENES crawls out of the tub and places a lamp on the ground. They carry the tub to the back of the bus. The DRIVER climbs up the ladder and DIOGENES hoists the tub up to him. The DRIVER pushes the tub onto the roof of the bus and secures it with a rope)

DRIVER (continuing): I hope you are satisfied.

DIOGENES: I will give you a good rating if you have a passenger satisfaction survey to fill out.

DRIVER: Do you realise that we are now behind schedule; there are some very important people on the bus.

DIOGENES: No doubt they think they are.

(DIOGENES gets on the bus and walks to the back, swinging his lamp to get a look at the weary passengers. The DRIVER jumps in and starts the bus; DIOGNENES falls into a seat as the bus lurches forward. The passengers doze off as the bus continues its long journey in the darkness along a narrow road that slowly winds its way up the mountain until it reaches Prionia, where the road ends)

DRIVER: All change please. Mind the gap.

(MERKEL gets off the bus while the others slowly wake up, wondering how they ended up on a bus)

DIOGENES: Are you bozos going to stay here all night?

(The DRIVER hits the horn a few times to wake up the stragglers)

HOLLAND: Who is that rude bum in the back of the bus?

DIOGENES: I am Diogenes, often called ‘Diogenes the Dog.’

HOLLAND: No wonder. You could use a bath and a haircut.

BUS DRIVER (from the front of the bus): Hey, no comments about haircuts.

DIOGENES: I lead a simple life. At least I don’t spend 10,000 euros a month on haircuts, not that your stylist has much to work with.

HOLLAND: It’s only 9,895 euros.

(One by one the remaining passengers get off the bus and look around, shivering in the cold)

TUSK: Where are we going?

DIOGENES: I thought that you knew everything, especially what is best for others.

TUSK: I wasn’t talking to you.

DIOGENES: Were you talking to yourself? If you were, I can recommend a good book on the subject.

(TUSK walks away from DIOGENES)

DRAGHI: What’s that awful smell?

DIOGENES: Don’t look at me,

(A LARGE MAN in a sheepskin coat and a cigarette dangling from his lips approaches, followed by several donkeys)

JUNCKER: I demand to know what’s going on.

LARGE MAN: All aboard. Mount up.

(The group looks around, puzzled and uncertain about what to do)

LARGE MAN: You can either ride or walk, but the mountain gets a bit sleep and sometimes the rocks loosen and fall. You are lucky because the donkeys usually haul supplies, not people.

JUNCKER: I am going nowhere.

LARGE MAN: You’re already there—nowhere. If you stay here you will freeze to death by morning.

BUS DRIVER: That would be a big loss, wouldn’t it?

(The BUS DRIVER takes off his cap and JUNCKER realises that he is looking at BORIS JOHNSON)

JUNCKER: It’s you.

BORIS JOHNSON: Sorry I can’t continue on with you. Maybe we can meet for tea next time you are in London.

(JUNCKER turns away and looks around. Although it is still dark, he realises that there is nothing for hundreds of kilometres and reluctantly mounts a donkey)

LARGE MAN (to DIOGENES): You going to walk?

DIOGENES: These well-fed bureaucrats must weigh more than the donkeys.

LARGE MAN: Don’t concern yourself about the donkeys. They usually carry much heavier loads.

DIOGENES (to MERKEL): I understand that you like hiking. Care to join me?

MERKEL (climbing onto a donkey): Not in these shoes.

(The next day the morning sun is slowly rising above the mist as the passengers begin to awaken in their new surroundings, feeling sore and stiff, wondering where the hell they are)

MERKEL (turning over): Who kicked me?

HOLLAND: It wasn’t me.

(They look around and realise that they have been asleep all night in a makeshift barn, together with the donkeys; the one next to MERKEL gets to its feet and moves away. They all fully awaken in response to a loud blast from a trumpet)

DIOGENES: Rise and shine. Today is your big day.

TUSK: What’s he talking about?

DIOGENES: Were you speaking to me?

(TUSK turns away from DIOGENES. The trumpet sounds again as a STABLE GROOM enters, dressed like a race track jockey in black cap, red jacket and white pants)

STABLE GROON: Sorry we can’t offer you a shower. This will have to do.

(He dusts off the straw with a whisk broom as they object. HOLLAND adjusts his glasses and brushes his hair back with his hands. MERKEL touches up her hair)

STABLE GROOM: This way, if you please.

(He leads them up to the Pantheon, the highest peak on Mount Olympus, nowadays more commonly known as Mytikas.  At the entrance of a courtyard they are welcomed by HERMES, god of travellers and hospitality, as well as thievery and other things. Inside, on a large gold throne at the far end sits ZEUS, surrounded by the other Olympians. The mist makes it appear as though they are suspended on a cloud; perhaps they are. The puzzled travellers walk forward and come to a halt)

HOLLAND: What is this—some kind of Greek theatre?

MERKEL: Maybe a Hollywood movie set.

DRAGHI: No, they are wearing Greek costumes.

DIOGENES: Don’t you fools know where you are?

HERMES (to the uninformed): You are on Mount Olympus—in the presence of the twelve Olympians.

(A thunderbolt strikes the ground, and the assembled group jumps)

ZEUS: I see that I now have everyone’s attention. MINISTER, you may present your case.

JUNCKER: What’s the meaning of this?

ZEUS: Silence, mortal.

(ZEUS throws his hand forward and a thunderbolt lands at JUNCKER’s feet)

FINANCE MINISTER: The bailout and austerity measures that have been imposed on the Greek people by the EU have caused widespread suffering, economic hardship and social unrest. The billions provided by this so called ‘rescue plan’ have gone 95% to the European banks.

TUSK (to ZEUS): You have no authority over the European Union.

DRAGHI: I say we leave.

(ZEUS shoots repeated thunderbolts at the feet of JUNCKER, TUSK and DRAGHI. They jump each time and their motion is similar to bullet dancing—shooting close to a victim’s feet—in an old western movie.

DIOGENES: I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.

(The thunderbolts stop and JUNCKER, TUSK and DRAGHI compose themselves)

DIOGENES: You are all fools, suffering from ‘endemic tower phobia.’

FINANCE MINISTER: That’s a new one on me. What does it mean?

DIOGENES:  It is a psychological condition that starts each morning during the chauffeur-driven ride by a high-level bureaucrat, most often unelected, to an expensively furnished office in a modern skyscraper that often reaches above the clouds. The condition accelerates faster for those who reach the top floor in a private non-stop elevator in less than sixty seconds. Once seated behind a desk that would have been the envy of the mighty ZEUS …

ZEUS: What’s that?

(DIOGENE’s explanation is interrupted by a loud thunderbolt)

DIOGENES: Begging your pardon, mighty ZEUS. I meant to say King Farouk.

FINANCE MINISTER (to DIOGENES): You were saying …

DIOGENES: Once seated behind a typically gold inlayed desk, the high atmosphere causes the close fitting tailor-made suits of these know-it-all big shots to compress, forcing pressure upwards into their heads, which then swell with self-importance.

FINANCE MINISTER: That explains a lot about dealing with the European Council, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

JUNCKER: I’m not going to listen to any more of this.

DRAGHI: Nor am I.

TUSK: I didn’t come here to be insulted; in fact, I didn’t even ask to come here at all.

(ZEUS sends thunderbolts that barely miss the trio’s shoes)

ZEUS: One more peep out of you overpaid bureaucrats and the next thunderbolt will make those expensive shoes into open-toed ones.

(Another thunderbolt is shot as a warning)

ZEUS (to FINANCE MINISTER): You may proceed.

MERKEL (to the others): It’s not just a bad dream, is it?


Satire Sketch

ALL ABOARD – Last Bus to Canada

Published by:

Blog by Richard Heagy

(The hallway of the office building is lined on both sides with folding chairs as far as the eye can see; not one seat is empty as the occupants nervously await their turn. A desk has been placed at the end of the hallway, occupied by the bored RECEPTIONIST who is nevertheless busy at work—polishing her nails)

RECEPTIONIST:  Next—number 293.

(Number 293 approaches the RECEPTIONIST, hands her a card with the number on it)

RECEPTIONIST:  You can go in now, Mr. Smith.

ALAN SMITHEE:  My name is Smithee, not Smith.


(ALAN SMITHEE opens the door and enters a room with a large wooden desk decorated with an overflowing in-box stacked with applications. Behind it sits a friendly well-fed man in his sixties, wearing a dark pinstripe suit, crisp white shirt and solid yellow necktie. He adjusts his cuff links as he motions for ALAN SMITHEE to sit in the chair in front of the desk)

CHIEF OF STAFF:  I can only give you ten minutes.

ALAN SMITHEE:  I have been waiting for over two hours.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  I am sorry about that Mr. Smith, but we have 4,000 positions to fill.

ALAN SMITHEE:  It’s Smithee, not Smith.

CHIEF OF STAFF: Name sounds familiar—Alan Smithee—can’t quite place it. Have we met before?


CHIEF OF STAFF:  I know I’ve heard that name before.

ALAN SMITHEE:  Many years ago, Hollywood directors who wanted to avoid being named as the director of a film they were unhappy with used a pseudonym, which most often was ‘Alan Smithee.’

CHIEF OF STAFF:  Oh, so you are a movie director?


CHIEF OF STAFF:  Then it’s your real name?

ALAN SMITHEE:  Not at all. I just want to remain anonymous.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  Anonymous! How can we hire you if we don’t know your name?

ALAN SMITHEE:  I am not here about a job. I have a plan to get the President-elect off to a good start.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  Why don’t you send it to me in writing and I will have someone take a look at it.

(The CHIEF OF STAFF writes an email address on the back of a business card and hands it to ALAN SMITHEE)

ALAN SMITHEE:  I can’t do that, I want to remain anonymous.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  Well, then, I don’t think I can help you.

ALAN SMITHEE:  It’s a question of helping the President-elect, not me. I have a plan to make a goodwill gesture to those who did not vote for the President-elect, unite the country and start rebuilding the infrastructure immediately, all in one step.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  It sounds very noble, but I don’t have time right now to listen to something that involved.

ALAN SMITHEE:  I can explain it very quickly—you said you would give me ten minutes.

(The CHIEF OF STAFF looks at his watch and nods affirmatively)

CHIEF OF STAFF:  OK, you have five more minutes.

ALAN SMITHEE:  Thank you, you won’t be sorry.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  Let’s hear it.

ALAN SMITHEE:  First, California did not vote for the President-elect, so a goodwill gesture would be to start rebuilding the infrastructure in Southern California.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  Why there?

ALAN SMITHEE:  That’s where Hollywood is.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  I’m sure that must make sense, but the reasoning escapes me for the moment.

ALAN SMITHEE:  That is because the Hollywood community is quite depressed about the election results. Several psychologists and therapists have reported that many of their clients, who are always under extreme pressure anyway, are sinking into depression. That may indirectly cause the population to become depressed and negative.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  I don’t see the connection.

ALAN SMITHEE:  These are the people who produce our motion pictures and TV shows, constantly being watched by millions, especially with streaming these days.  What would the mood be if they were suddenly faced with watching only sombre, depressing movies and TV shows?

CHIEF OF STAFF:  I see your point.


CHIEF OF STAFF:  But how is starting to rebuild the infrastructure in Southern California going to help?

ALAN SMITHEE:  You start by rebuilding the highways from Los Angeles to Vancouver.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  Vancouver?

ALAN SMITHEE:  Well, of course you would stop at the US border.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  Obviously.

ALAN SMITHEE:  You might even repair a few bridges along the way, and make detours here and there to avoid any ‘Christmas tree’ for sale signs when you go through the wooded areas of Oregon and Washington.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  You are talking about a project that spans California, Oregon and Washington. How is all of this going to raise the mood in Hollywood?

ALAN SMITHEE:  Many of them threatened to move to Canada if their candidate lost.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  If they do, they will fly.

ALAN SMITHEE:  Not at all. They can be shamed into not flying in their private jets or driving in their gas guzzling Hummers.


ALAN SMITHEE:  The government can offer free transportation on Greyhound buses, praising how these passengers are helping the environment by not using their private planes.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  Are these people used to riding the bus?

ALAN SMITHEE:  Musicians often tour the country on luxury buses; movie stars stay on location in luxury trailers. The Greyhound buses can be spruced up to add some luxury and they will be travelling on new highways.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  Even so, it would be a very long ride.

ALAN SMITHEE:  I have a solution for that.

(The CHIEF OF STAFF looks sceptical, but remains interested)

CHIEF OF STAFF:  I’m listening.

ALAN SMITHEE:  Local employment can be increased by building comfortable rest stops along the way, maybe spaced two or three hours apart. They could be decorated with posters from Hollywood films and directors’ chairs, with the latest editions of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter available. Perhaps offer fresh mountain spring water and vegan appetisers free of charge.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  I’m not convinced yet. We’re still talking about a long ride for a bunch of depressed people in a small space.

ALAN SMITHEE:  You haven’t heard the best part yet.


ALAN SMITHEE:  Each rest stop will have a specially designed room, with soft music, comfortable chairs and a long leather couch.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  What’s the couch for?

ALAN SMITHEE:  Each rest stop will be manned by a free psychiatrist or analyst—more employment.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  That’s fine, but it will slow down the trip if too many of them need a consultation at a particular stop.

ALAN SMITHEE:  I don’t think that will be a problem because the rest stops will not be placed that far apart.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  Anything else?

ALAN SMITHEE:  Yes. Each rest stop will have a drive-through window for those who prefer driving their own car instead of taking the bus.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  You seem to have thought of everything.

ALAN SMITHEE:  The only problem is if too many of them try to move to Canada.

CHIEF OF STAFF:  You mean the cost might escalate.

ALAN SMITHEE:  No, Canada might build a wall.


All aboard. Last bus to Canada.

      All aboard

Satire Sketch

Chinese Anyone? ask Justice Scalia

Published by:

Blog by Richard Heagy

ISABEL was a nice looking woman in her fifties, until a large beer, delivery truck came out of nowhere, went through a stop sign, and totalled her small car. She was driving on a county road on her way to a schoolhouse, but she could not remember why; all she remembered was the crash. The schoolhouse was serving as a temporary courthouse while the official one was undergoing repairs. Because of a shortage of judges, initial motions on her case (a discrimination lawsuit for failure to hire ISABEL [also referred to as the PLAINTIFF] to teach Chinese, even though she spoke no Chinese) were to be re-scheduled.

Everything seemed cloudy to ISABEL, but slowly it all came into focus. Instead of being in a hospital room, she found herself walking slowly up a stairway that suddenly branched out towards five different entrances, actually arched gates with names above. The two on the left said ‘UK’ and ‘EU’, the two on the right ‘US’ and ‘CHINA’, respectively; the one in the middle, much larger, said ‘MAIN ENTRANCE TO HEAVEN’.

It suddenly occurred to ISABEL that she was dead; she had died in the car accident. What lousy timing; she had just commenced an important discrimination lawsuit against the city’s only school district.

ISABEL (looking around): Where am I?

VOICE (O.S.): What does it look like?

ISABEL: The Pearly Gates.

VOICE (O.S.): They don’t like people to call it that.

ISABEL: Sorry.

VOICE (O.S.): The name is Heaven.

ISABEL: I want to talk to God.

VOICE (O.S.): Walk up to the main entrance.

(ISABEL walks up to the main entrance and finds a short, old man smoking a cigar)

ISABEL: You are not God.

VOICE: Well, I played God in the movies.

OTHER VOICES (O.S.) – Richard Pryor and Charlton Heston: Me to.

VOICE: Ignore them. I played God in two movies. I am George Burns, or I used to be.

(ST. PETER returns from his break and looks at all the gates)

ST. PETER (to GEORGE BURNS): What have you done? Why are there so many gates?

GEORGE BURNS: It is April 1st; God took away my life but not my sense of humour.

(ST. PETER snaps his fingers; there is a loud clap of thunder and the four extra gates disappear)

ISABEL: I have a complaint. It’s about my Chinese …

ST. PETER: I handle admissions, not complaints. Go back down the stairs, exactly 40 steps, and turn left.

(ISABEL cautiously walks down the stairs, counting each step; then sees a path on the left, which she follows until she comes to a counter, which seems to be floating in the air. Behind the counter stands a pious-looking man (MAN) with a long beard and a strong resemblance to Confucius)

MAN (in Mandarin): Help you?

(They converse for a while, ISABEL in English and the MAN in Mandarin, their voices raising as they speak in frustration at their inability to understand each other)

ISABEL (yelling): I did not ask for someone who speaks Chinese. This is about a Chinese class, but it is a legal matter.  Doesn’t anyone here speak English?

(An angel—ST. IVES—appears next to the MAN and taps him on the shoulder. The MAN bows and in response ST. IVES nods his head, whereupon the MAN fades from sight)

ST. IVES: I speak English.

ISABEL: What about the Chinese man? I thought everyone in Heaven could speak all languages.

ST. IVES: Only the Saints have that ability.

ISABEL: Who are you?

ST. IVES: I am ST. IVES, the patron Saint of the legal profession.

ISABEL: I should not be here.

ST. IVES: How many times have I heard that?

ISABEL: I started legal proceedings that involve important issues concerning racial discrimination. I must return to earth, at least long enough to resolve the case.

ST. IVES: This is quite an unusual request.

ISABEL: I think it has happened many times before.

ST. IVES: That is only in the movies. God is the only one who can grant your request.

GEORGE BURNS (O.S.): Did someone call me?

ST. IVES: Another one of your April Fools pranks, I guess.

GEORGE BURNS (O.S.): There is not much else to do up here.

ST. IVES (to ISABEL): I will be right back.

ISABEL: You’re going to consult God?

ST. IVES: No, ST. PETER. You have to go through channels up here just like everywhere else.

(ST. IVES leaves for what seems to be a long time, although time is irrelevant in Heaven. ISABEL paces back and forth until ST. IVES returns)


ST. IVES: You are in luck. This has never happened before, but God is totally against discrimination.

ISABEL: Do you mean I can return?

ST. IVES: Yes.

ISABEL: It is a miracle.

ST. IVES: That is one of God’s specialties—miracles.

ISABEL: When do I leave?

ST. IVES: As soon as we discuss the terms and conditions.

ISABEL: You sound like a lawyer. Sorry, I forgot.

ST. IVES: You have 48 hours; then you must return. Whatever decision the court makes will be final. You may not stay longer to appeal if you receive an unfavourable decision.

ISABEL: There is a problem with the 48 hours.

ST. IVES: What would that be?

ISABEL: The trial is to be postponed because of a shortage of local judges. Two went to jail last week for corruption and three went on a hunting trip together. The rest have full calendars.

ST. IVES: No problem. We will send someone from here. I have a recent arrival in mind.

ISABEL: Wait; I can’t go back looking like this, not after a deadly car crash.

ST. IVES: You will appear just as you were before the accident.

(ST. IVES claps his hands, followed by a loud thunderbolt. ISABEL finds herself in the courtroom, in reality a school classroom. She looks round and sees several others, all seated in typical classroom chairs with writing tops. They include PLAINTFF’s ATTORNEY, DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY, as well as the JANITOR; up front behind a table sits a large man, the recently deceased JUSTICE SCALIA)


DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: We don’t have one.

JUSTICE SCALIA: We cannot proceed without one.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Why don’t we use the JANITOR.

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: I will agree to that. I am sure he has seen enough TV programs to know what to do.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Very well, but we need a gavel.

JANITOR: I think there is one on the wall in the Principal’s office; he got is as some kind of award.

(He leaves and goes to the principal’s office, which is next door. There are sounds of pounding and breaking glass before the JANITOR returns, gavel in hand. He hands it to JUSTICE SCALIA, who places it on the table)

JANITOR: Sorry about the noise, but I had to break the glass case on the wall.

JUSTICE SCALIA (to the JANITOR): I hereby appoint you as BAILIFF of this court. Now, we may proceed.

BAILIFF: All rise. Court is in session.

(JUSTICE SCALIA nods his head to the BAILIFF in approval as the others rise, with some difficulty, from the small sized classroom chairs)

JUSTICE SCALIA:  BAILIFF, read the complaint.

BAILIFF: It is kind of long, and has some big words.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Just give us a summary.

(The BAILIFF reads over the complaint quickly)

BAILIFF: PLAINTIFF has filed a discrimination suit against the DEFENDANT for failure to hire her for some Chinese job; all the other applicants are all Chinese persons.

JUSTICE SCALIA (to PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY): Counsellor, you may make your opening statement.

(PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY is young and has been a member of the bar for just over a year. The lighting is poor in the room, and as he approaches the bench, he recognises the famous justice, but then he is unsure)

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Is that really you? I just returned from being abroad for eight months and I heard that you had died. I have not seen any mention of you in the local papers since I returned. I guess rumours of your death are premature—like Mark Twain.

JUSTICE SCALIA:  Well, here I am, acting as a circuit judge. Please proceed.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: PLAINTIFF’s suit alleges employment discrimination based on race. She is white and all of the other applicants are Chinese.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Does this involve a Chinese restaurant?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: No. I am afraid the BAILIFF’s summary of the complaint was too brief. PLAINTIFF is suing the DEFENDANT school district for failing to hire her to teach classes in Chinese; I mean Mandarin. As the BAILIFF stated, the PLAINTIFF is white and the other applicants are all Chinese.


PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: This community has a large number of companies of various sizes that import products made in China to their specifications. Several of their employees need to learn Chinese. The DEFENDANT offers adult education classes, mostly at night, including Chinese, or more specifically Mandarin. All applicants are required to teach a minimum of two classes per week. There are only two unfilled positions; PLAINTIFF can teach the one in English and have someone else teach the Chinese class for her.

JUSTICE SCALIA: What damages are you seeking?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: In addition to a job, she is seeking damages for emotional distress, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life.

JUSTICE SCALIA (to DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY): Counsellor, you may present your defence.

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: The school district has a clear rule, applied to all persons equally: you must teach a minimum of two classes. PLAINTIFF works fulltime during the day and is only available to teach adult education classes at night. There are only two unfilled evening positions at this time: How to Write a Short Story, which PLAINTIFF is qualified to teach, and Mandarin, which she is not. Failure to hire PLAINTIFF has nothing to do with race.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Who are these other potential applicants?

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: Chinese suppliers to some of our local companies have sent a few employees here to learn technology. They are also well educated and qualified to teach Mandarin, it being their native language. Employment is based on knowledge of Mandarin, not race or nationality.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Aren’t they also supposed to teach two classes, or are you making an exception for them—further discrimination.

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: Some of them are teaching Chinese cooking.


DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: PLAINTIFF’s complaint fails to state a cause of action with respect to inconvenience and loss of enjoyment of life. Furthermore, we will introduce evidence to show that the latter claim is false and that the PLAINTIFF suffers no emotional distress or mental anguish.

JUSTICE SCALIA (to PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY): Counsellor, are you telling me that the PLAINTIFF does not speak Chinese; I mean Mandarin.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Yes, but she is willing to learn and has already started. I have a witness who will testify as to her progress. Let me make a call and he will be here in 15 minutes or less.

(They take a break until there is a knock on the door and a Chinese man enters with several bags of Chinese food)

JUSTICE SCALIA: What is this? I would have preferred Italian food.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: This is my witness, the owner (OWNER) of a Chinese restaurant nearby.

(JUSTICE SCALIA decides that they might as well eat before the witness testifies. When they finish, the OWNER is sworn in by the BAILIFF)

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: If the court decides that PLAINTIFF must teach the Mandarin class herself, then, as I have already stated, PLAINTIFF is willing to learn Mandarin, and has already started. She eats Chinese food several times a week and always asks for a handful of extra fortune cookies so that she can learn new words.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Did you say that the PLAINTIFF is learning Mandarin from fortune cookies?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY:  Yes, and I will present testimony as to her progress.

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY (to JUSTICE SCALIA): I believe last year in Obergefell vs Hodges you referred to the level of wisdom delivered to diners at the end of a Chinese meal. Your dissenting opinion stated, in part, ‘The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie’.

JUSTICE SCALIA: The witness is excused; with our thanks for lunch.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I don’t understand.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Maybe you will find some wisdom in your fortune cookie, or maybe not. I was in Hong Kong recently for a conference; Chinese restaurants do not have fortune cookies there.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I would like to present an expert witness to testify as to the emotional distress and mental anguish that has caused PLAINTIFF’s loss of enjoyment of life. I will also call the PLAINTIFF to testify as to her emotional distress and mental suffering.

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: First, PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY has given no notice that he would introduce an expert witness to testify about PLAINTIFF’s alleged emotional distress and mental anguish.

(PLAINTIFF, getting ready to go to the witness stand fluffs up her hair and takes out her makeup. She is horrified when she looks in a pocket mirror and sees no reflection; then remembers that she is dead)

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: Second, such testimony is not necessary, as PLAINTIFF has not suffered any loss of enjoyment of life as will be established by the exhibits I wish to introduce into evidence. In addition, if you will look at PLAINTIFF’s attire you will see the results of her recent shopping spree at the mall the day after she was disqualified for the Mandarin teaching job: new shoes, nice dress, and an expensive Apple watch. We also have some Facebook posts of PLAINTIFF and her friends laughing and eating ice cream in the mall on the same day, and more later on in a bar, drinking Champagne, not the drink of a depressed person.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I object to the admission of PLAINTIFF’s Facebook posts into evidence.

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: Someone told me to save the best for last. Instead of offering the Facebook posts into evidence, I offer the following document.

(DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY approaches the bench and hands a formal looking document to JUSTICE SCALIA and points out that it has been notarised and authenticated)

JUSTICE SCALIA (to PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY):  How much do you know about the PLAINTIFF?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: She was an English teacher in a small town in New Jersey for several years; then lost her job when the school burnt down and she moved here.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Did you know that her father was a sales representative abroad for an American company?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY (looking worried): Where is this going?

JUSTICE SCALIA: Look at this.

(He hands the document to PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY and waits)

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: It is a birth certificate.

JUSTICE SCALIA: No Kidding. Read PLAINTIFF’s place of birth, for everyone to hear.


DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: That makes the PLAINTIFF Chinese, so there is no discrimination in favour of Chinese.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Case dismissed, with prejudice.

(With that, he bangs the gavel and there is a crack of thunder, followed by a loud swishing sound. PLAINTIFF finds herself back in Heaven, in front of the Complaint desk)

ST. IVES: Back so soon?


25 x 50 SizeFortune Cookie 25 x 50 SizeFortune Cookie 25 x 50 SizeFortune Cookie

Humour Satire

Wrong Writing

Published by:

Blog by Bruce Costello

Even on sunny days, the former Sunday School Hall behind St Jebusiah’s Church seems to languish in shade. The community groups who rent it at fifty cents an hour complain about its airlessness and musty smell. A tradesman is said to be coming to open the windows, stuck shut when the building was painted years ago.

Inside, the carpet is threadbare, the wallpaper dangles in sad strips and the curtains are stained with mould. Hanging askew on one wall is a print in faded blue shades of a young Princess Elizabeth.

Against a lopsided bookcase leans a dust-covered brass plaque with a list of illegible names, and the inscription, barely discernible under green patina: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.”

The Disciplinary Court of the Eastland Writers’ Group is in session. The Jury, made up of writing students and lecturers wearing berets and body piercings, sits on pews around the walls. Seated at the end of a long table, the Presiding Judge, Catriona von Loeven, opens proceedings. She is a bulky woman who looks like she’s wearing opportunity shop clothes, aged somewhere between thirty and fifty- five, with a mane of red hair and narrow green eyes.

She peers at an elderly gentleman in a pin-striped suit at the other end of the table. He is small, and looks cold, sitting with his shoulders screwed up.

“Victor John Watson,” Catriona says, frowning. “In accordance with the disciplinary procedures laid down in Section Two of the Constitution of the Eastland Writers’ Group, of which I am the duly elected President, you have been summoned to answer a serious allegation.”

She taps the table with the blunt end of a ballpoint pen. “Secretary Gary Carson will now read the charge.”

She turns to a white-faced young man wearing a decrepit mauve beret, seated at her right. He has a lengthy nose with a ring through it and insipid eyes.

Secretary Gary stands, clears his throat, casts a withering look towards the defendant, and begins to read in a high-pitched monotone, like a priest chanting some incantation.

“Victor John Watson! You are hereby charged with apostasy in that, in defiance of Group Teaching, you deny that Clever Style is the Supreme Element in writing and blasphemously ascribe primacy to meaning.”

Victor mutters something, not quite inaudibly, and Gary’s face turns bright red.

Catriona flings back her head, like a lioness, and roars at the defendant: “How dare you! These are serious matters involving heresy! As Presiding Judge, I remind you they are punishable by disfellowshipping or excommunication. Do you understand the charge?”

“No, Your Worship.”

“Do you plead guilty or not guilty?” Catriona continues, her voice growling with menace.

“How can I, if I don’t understand, Your Highness?” Victor raises a hand to his clean-cut face, as if to hide his expression.

Catriona slams her fist on the table, narrows her eyes and addresses the Jury.

“I ask members of the Jury to note that the mendacious defendant’s so called inability to understand was deemed passive-obstructivistical by the committee members appointed to counsel him towards literary contrition.”

The Jury nods.

“Objection, Your Honour!” cries the Counsel for the Defence, a whiskery individual looking somewhat like a leprechaun in a green corduroy jacket and bicycle-clipped trousers, perched on a stool beside the accused. “It stands to reason that the defendant must be either stupid, or mentally ill, or both, and his “inability to understand” should be acknowledged by the court as a genuine handicap.”

“Objection overruled! That’s bullshit.” Catriona turns to the Prosecuting Counsel, a woman with close-cropped hair wearing a stained denim jacket and boots that make her look like she’s about to go fox hunting. “Present the evidence, please, Lana.”

Lana rises from her seat at the President’s side, takes a magazine from the top of a large pile on the table before her and waves it at the Jury.

“This magazine bought in a supermarket,” she says, spitting out the words, “and numerous others of its ilk, collected as evidence, contains short stories written by a certain…a certain Sarah Gibbs!”

She clasps a hand to her mouth.

“Take your time,” soothes President Catriona. Lana slumps into her seat and dry retches into a paper bag while the courtroom waits. After a few minutes, she stands up, eyes lowered as if she can’t bear to look at the defendant, then runs from the room.

President Catriona rises. Hands clasped behind her back, she approaches the accused, lowers her face to his and rasps: “Is it not true that you have been writing furtively under the name of Sarah Gibbs?”

Victor looks away.

“And is not true that the stories of Sarah Gibbs, or should I say Victor Watson, are devoid of stylistic innovation, that they lack beauty and lyricism, that they are, in fact, completely devoid of those linguistic elements showing the Love of Words which is the hallmark of Clever Style, the pursuit and honouring of which constitutes the sole purpose of the Eastland Writers’ Group?”

“I don’t understand, Your Worship.”

“Don’t understand? How very, very convenient!” Catriona shakes her head, glancing towards the Jury. “What do you understand?”

“Well, it’s like this, Your Honour. I just write about ordinary folks with ordinary life problems. I write simply, so people can know what I mean.” He pauses and looks down, shyly. “I like to think my stories help people to think meaningfully about their lives.”

“Oh, you do, do you! Who do think you are? Anton Chekhov?”

The Jury members chuckle loudly.

“That old seagull!” someone calls out from the back of the room and the floorboards resound with the stomping of feet.

“What’ve you got to say for yourself?” Catriona shouts at Victor, as the din dies down.

“Nothing. I just think writing’s about people, not about words.”

“Excuse me, may it please the court,” butts in the Counsel for the Defence, stroking his whiskers down both sides towards a pointed chin. “In defence of the accused, I’d like to point out that he has, unfortunately, never been to a Clever Writing School and isn’t up with Latest Thinking.”

“Irrelevant!” cries Catriona. “And another thing! Do you get paid for these pathetic so called stories you’ve had published?”

“Yes, Your Honour. Eight hundred dollars each. That’s forty thousand dollars for the fifty I’ve had published so far.”

A hush falls upon the courtroom. A blowfly is heard, trapped in a spider’s web against a window pane. It extricates itself and careens around the hall, then crash lands, spinning upside down on the table in front of Catriona, who appears not to notice. Her mouth has dropped open and she is staring at Victor, wide-eyed.

A few minutes pass. Secretary Gary clears his throat twice, jolting Catriona back into the room. She looks around, a burgeoning smile on her face, then rises and bows towards Victor. “Thank you, Mr Watson, for giving freely of your time to assist the group to work through these misunderstandings. Now that they’ve all been nicely cleared up…”

Gary tugs at her sleeve and whispers: “You must address the Jury, Madam!”

“Do I have to?” she hisses back at him.


She turns to the Jury. “Members of the, um, Eastland Writers. In view of the fact that our esteemed colleague, Mr Watson, has raised the profile of the group through his recent successes, which he achieved despite never having been to a Clever Writing School, and in recognition of his devotion and compassion towards ordinary people, for whom he writes in a clear and helpful manner which, as he so modestly noted, assists them to think meaningfully about their lives, I propose that we award Mr Watson the great honour of Life Membership of the Eastland Writers’ Group in the sure confidence that he will continue to associate and share freely with us from his, ah, wealth of experience and knowledge.”

Victor buttons up his suit jacket with deliberation, and quietly puts on his hat. Saluting the courtroom with one finger, he leaves, slamming the door so hard behind him, it parts from its rusty hinges and crashes through the floorboards.

Outside, the sun beams down from the spring blue sky and a warm breeze rustles in the trees. Victor takes off his hat and jacket and walks home, whistling.

The following week, he buys the Sunday School Hall from the Church. With help from community agencies, local businesses and volunteers, he restores the building to its former glory and establishes New Zealand’s first free Neighbourhood Therapeutic Writing Drop-in Centre.

The Eastland Writers’ Group disintegrates and Catriona von Loeven absconds with the funds.


PUBLICATION NOTE: Wrong Writing was previously published online in 2015 on Fiction on the Web.