Thing 000770 (Zwischen Zirkuskuppel und Manege)

During the summer of 1960, the trainer Monika Holzmüller and the elephant Moni participated in the circus tour called Radio-Circus 60 in France. During their performance entitled Moni, Monika presented Moni as her daughter. Moni answered verbal questions by nodding her head. She also solved simple mathematical questions, posed partly by the audience, tapping out the result on a table with a hammer she held with her trunk. The elephant also chose food and drinks from a menu, drank champagne and smoked a cigarette.

On July 10, 1964, the German television station WDR broadcasted a black and white TV movie entitled Zwischen Zirkuskuppel und Manege. The film was a re-edit of 13 episodes of 26 minutes by the ORTF French television series Fils du cirque or Tony, le fils de cirque, directed by Bernard Hecht and Brigitte Muel. The series is about the adventures of Tony, a child who grows up at a circus. The series was filmed during the tour of the Radio-Circus 60. The film Zwischen Zirkuskuppel und Manege includes scenes of the performance by the elephant Moni. Between WDR and ORTF existed an agreement that they could use one anothers archives.

After seeing Zwischen Zirkuskuppel und Manege on German televison, Monika Holzmüller alleged that WDR copied her performance Moni without her permission. On March 21, 1967, the court case Holzmüller g. WRD took place at Landgericht München. In his conclusion the Judge stated:

The performance of the trainer with the trained elephant does not belong to the protected works of literature, science and art according to article 2 of the German copyright law. The text, pronounced only by one side, does not contain any literary quality as to be expected within a performance with a trained animal; it amounts to nothing more than simple questions. Neither does the performance meet the minimum requirements of a work of choreography or pantomime. [...] it is nevertheless necessary that the works are creative works, which by means of movements of human bodies, specially dance or facial expressions, form thoughts and sensations. In the given case the movement and facial expression of the implied person comes definitely second after the movement of the animal which furthermore is limited to nodding and shaking the head as a sign for “yes” and “no”, to hammer blows with the trunk, to eating, drinking and smoking a cigarette. This is definitely an admirable achievement in terms of training an animal, but can not be considered as a creative act of the trainer performing her own perceptions, thoughts and emotions by means of a movement in such a way that the spectators would receive a sensory impression that stimulated their own deeper sensation”.

The court concluded that Monika Holzmüller’s interaction with the animal didn’t fall into the range of works of art and that the elephant’s movement didn’t deserve protection as choreography.