“Species Royalties”: Conservation Revolution or Ethical and Practical Minefield?

The idea is, on the surface, rather simple: Help fund conservation causes by paying animals royalties when their images are used,

Tiger in vintage style
Tiger in vintage style by The British Library is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0 Tigers are ubiquitous in art and advertising. Many of the images are striking and beautiful. Should the creators pay a royalty to help save the animals in the wild?

It is a seemingly simple idea and likely appealing to that broad and varied segment of humanity called “animal lovers.” that is where the issues begin. “Animal Lover” covers a broad range of human acts and emotions and one person’s “love of animals” can be rank cruelty to others. A case in point is the recent war between Tiger King Joe Maldonado and the animal rescue groups opposed to him. He considered himself an “animal lover” and was willing to hire killers to finish off a woman who considered herself an animal lover too. He wound up in jail.

So the first question might be: Does someone like Joe Maldonado, proven in court to have run a substandard wildlife exhibition, get a pass if he pays “royalties” to organizations protecting the very animals he is alleged to exploit? And how do we define exploitation?

Which leads to the questions surrounding royalties themselves. Royalties, residuals, points, and other forms of income distribution have been fought over for centuries and still are. Television actors, for example, got no residuals (a form or royalty) until 1959 and had to fight the powerful powers that are in television to get any at all. Residuals have been a bone of contention ever since.

Lion at the Imperial Arch
Lion at the Imperial Arch by David Dixon is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0 Look around and you will probably see a lion. The national symbol of 14 nations is a regal subject for art and commerce. How do you convince nations to pay a royalty to living lions that they mightlive in peace?

There is a popular sugared cereal with a famous Tiger logo we all know. In a perfect world a penny per box to an organization like Wildlife SOS, might be reasonable. Is it reasonable to suppose that the company would immediately agree to this? And what about all the other cereals with animal logos?

Size, distribution and fairness of royalties is an issue too. If one cereal pays a penny a box because it has big sales, what does a startup pay? And would there be a startup if the manufacturer shied away from the hassle of accounting and paying for a royalty?

Rabbit Analogue Mobile Phone Soft Toy (soft toy)
Rabbits are not in danger of extinction, but they are used as logos and profit drivers too. Is it fair to ignore imposing royalties on people who profit from rabbits and impose them on people making money off leopard prints? Where would it stop?

Animal logos are ubiquitous. Do we all pay if we draw a fox, buy a themed shirt or give-in to buying that leopard print scarf? Some of the answers are emerging. Animal Royalties is an Australian art consortium that supports that continent’s beleaguered wildlife with what amounts to a voluntary royalty. But that raises questions too. The people paying the royalties may want some say in how they are spent. They are not truly voluntary contributions, after all. Australia his home to a great number of unique species. They are being devastated by feral house cats that are an “invasive species.” Can the royalties be used to help exterminate Australia’s feral cats? Or can they be used to help develop the biological weapons being considered against all of the many invasive species in the island continent? What about the feral cats? Do they have defenders?

Meadow Lane cat on garden wall
Meadow Lane cat on garden wall by ceridwen is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0 House cat or feral or both? Will you be able to use royalties to protect one species and against another?

Animal rights as an area of law is emerging and many of these questions would have to be sorted out in courts all over the world.

Another question that sheds light on the complexities involved is what to do with nation’s with animals as their national symbol? For example, fourteen nations have a lion as their national symbol. Seven are in Africa, where the lion population has diminished by 40 percent in recent years. The others include Macedonia, which hasn’t seen a lion in centuries, and Britain, which probably hasn’t seen one in 12,000 years. So if a country isn’t willing to protect its national symbol, how can we expect royalties from that nation?

A likely toehold in this battle is highlighted in a recent NewYorker article. Leopards have a distinctive and beautiful coat. For many centuries leopards have been slaughtered for those coats. American First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy popularized leopard fur garments and the article suggests more than 250,000 leopards paid with their lives as people emulated her style choices. Kennedy’s garment was pieced together from six pelts. The slaughter led to bans on the import of leopard pelts. The recent development of faux fur and other leopard garments has renewed the interest in leopard prints at minimal risk to living leopards. Designers are now coming under pressure to pay royalties to leopard protection programs. Many of which we have discussed. Some of the questions we have raised here will be answered in the fashion industry. The ripples will spread out and the term animal royalties will becomes more familiar and accepted.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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