Monkey Business: Who Owns the Copyright to a Selfie Taken by a Monkey?

By Joseph Mandour on August 14, 2014

monkeyLos Angeles – The general rule is that the person taking a picture owns the copyright to it. So, if a monkey takes a picture, who owns it? This is the hot debate that is brewing between British photographer David Slater and the folks at Wikimedia. According to the website, the famous 2011 image captured by a cheeky black macaque using Slater’s unattended equipment should be freely distributed. Those at Wikimedia claim that the animal’s self-portrait is not bound by copyright law. The photo was the product of Slater’s 2011 wildlife trip to Indonesia when a group of monkeys had taken over his camera for a bit during the three days he had spent with them.

Three years after Slater’s trip, the photo was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, a database of millions of images and videos that are free for public use. It was added to the “Celebes crested macaque Wikipedia page” by a contributor. Slater then requested that Wikimedia remove the photo from the website, a request that Wikimedia has refused. Slater claims that allowing free use of the image is jeopardizing his income.

Slater claims that he is the owner of the photograph. The trip cost him over $3,000 and the equipment cost him over $8,000, he says. Slater said the primates took hundreds of photos, most of them out of focus. The most famous of them was the one of the grinning female macaque, which turned out like a selfie. It was later licensed for use by many media outlets.

Wikimedia is taking the strong position that there are no copyright issues with this image. The company has refused to change the image’s “open” copyright classification. Slater is opposing their stance saying that he went through a great deal of effort and money to get that photo. Those at Wikimedia question Slater’s assertion that the photo belongs to him because he did not take the picture.

Wikimedia has taken the position that no one holds the copyright to that particular image because a monkey took the picture, not being human, and a monkey can have no legal standing that is required to own a copyright. Slater is said to be considering filing a lawsuit to confirm his ownership. The actual selfie can be seen here: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2014/08/08/photographer-should-have-rights-monkey-selfie/twpCD7fNWkrHhqdeJtRjiL/story.html

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