A Monkey's Selfie Might Drag Wikimedia To Court

by
Sameera Ehteram
There’s a copyright issue brewing and the contestants are a photographer, Wikimedia and a monkey!

Nature photographer David Slater was in Indonesia in 2011 photographing crested black macaque monkeys. The monkeys, being the smart-ass mammals they are, got involved in the process -- not that Slater minded. He even let them have a go at his camera.

What came out were hundreds of photos of foliage and surroundings, but also a gem -- a selfie taken by the primate. The photo was received well globally and made the rounds in major publications.

The image eventually made it to Wikimedia Commons and that’s where the trouble started. Slater claimed the right to the photo, but Wikimedia denied the request. Now there seems to be a battle over the ownership of the monkey selfie.

The dilemma: If a monkey takes a selfie, who owns the photo?

Not the photographer, says Wikimedia.

Not the monkey, says Slater, and definitely not Wikimedia Commons.

Wikipedia believes that although the photos were taken on the photographer's camera, he does not own the copyright because he did not take the photos. Under U.S. copyright law, however, a copyright cannot be owned by a non-human and hence the monkey goes out of the picture (well, not really). Therefore, since the photographer didn’t take the photo, he doesn’t own it, and the monkey isn't a human so that is that. Well, Wikimedia says, in such a situation the photograph becomes a public domain.

Intellectual property lawyer Brad Newberg agrees, "Just because he owns the camera, he can't own the photograph, because he didn't take the photograph. He didn't choose the lighting, he didn't choose the angle."

"If the photographer actually developed it in a certain way, made some tweaks, used some lighting to make some original choices, and said essentially 'Look at my collaboration with this monkey,' then he would have had some part of the creative process," he adds.

Slater disagrees. He says the photo wasn’t taken entirely by the monkey; the setting, lens, etc. were taken care of by the photographer himself. The camera just happened to be in the monkey’s hands and he let it there out of his own free will. Consider the monkey his photographer if you will and hence Slater stands by the claim of ownership and is willing to go to the court for it.

It will be interesting to see where this discord leads to.

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