“Monkeys Don’t Own Copyrights”: Wikimedia Denies Claim of British Photographer To Monkey Selfie

monkey_selfieIt may be the best picture British nature photographer David Slater never took. Slater was on a three-day trip to the Indonesian forest in 2011 when a macaque monkey grabbed his camera and took this selfie. Indeed, the monkey took hundreds of pictures. Some of those pictures were distributed on the Wikimedia Commons website. Slater demanded that it be taken down as copyrighted material. However, Wikimedia refused on the grounds that a monkey took the picture, not Slater.

Slater says that he was told that “If the monkey took it, it owns copyright, not me.”

However, Wikimedia Foundation’s chief communications officer Katherine Maher corrected him in saying that the “Monkeys don’t own copyrights.” In other words, if the Monkey would hold the copyright, no one holds the copyright. The monkey gets bananas and Slater gets bupkus.

Slater is promising to fight the claim and this could make for an interesting legal opinion.

Source: ABA Journal

43 thoughts on ““Monkeys Don’t Own Copyrights”: Wikimedia Denies Claim of British Photographer To Monkey Selfie”

  1. Regarding slang: where does the phrase “pork em if ya got em ” originate? Does it have anything to do with origin of the species and the mankind to monkey transformation?

  2. In the United States, copyright applies automatically and at the moment of creation. The first question here is which law governs, Indonesian or English. But, assuming the governing law is similar to US Law, because an animal cannot register a copyright to protect it via the USPTO, logic dictates that it could also not contribute a photograph to the public domain. The photograph could, however, be in the public domain automatically if it were produced accidentally (e.g., camera lost in jungle and “used” by monkey). But if the photographer intentionally gave the monkey access to the camera for the purpose of seeing whether the monkey would snap pictures and, if so, what results might occur, then it is likely that a court will find this to be a very creative process by the human, whose claim of copyright will then be upheld.

  3. T Limey,

    Very low wifi zones…. I stayed not to far south of the Crow Reservation…. At a certain point you have no signal. Somedays you just get a 1x or a delta sign…..

  4. I’m in a ‘low wifi’ zone in central Montana: no pix & videos today. Must have been funny if everyone is peeing themselves! …are peeing themselves?

  5. Dredd! OMG, now you have this old lady laughing so hard that I may need to sit closer to the bathroom, after 4 babies my bladder isn’t as strong as it used to be.

  6. did the monkey transfer ownership of the photo when he gave up the camera?

    1. Byron – that is where I am. Unless there is some documetation showing transfer of copyright ownership from the monkey then the monkey hold the copyright. However, since the monkey (a non-human cannot hold copyright) then the picture is in public domain.

  7. But what if the copy is wrong? If I was that monkey I would say that the copy of the photo is not accurate. And, I have the right to say so.

    1. Beldar – right means ownership, in this case. For instance, I have a right to my automobile because I paid for it (or am paying for it). If I do not pay for it, the bank has a right to foreclose and a right to take my automobile. Beldar, could I suggest that you and your group buy or somehow acquire some up-to-date dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary. The Urban Dictionary (available on the web) will keep you up to date on slang.

  8. Darren Smith, you made my day. Pro bonobos? Fantastic. I think the photographer does, indeed, own the copyright, but that the macaque should get royalties in bananas or whatever he so chooses. Then, again, I’m not an attorney…but I do have at least 5 annoying ones in my family, and they mostly concur with my opinion (sans the banana part – that was my own).

  9. Monkeys are unique to planet Earth. As we travel around the Universe we have found no such species on any other planet. Mankind here claims to have evolved from monkeys. But we folks from Remulak have been visiting for a long time and can tell you that monkeys evolved from humanoids. This particular monkey is trying to show you that he has a loose tooth and wants it fixed. Get him a dentist. The word
    copyright” is a contradiction in terms. If it is a copy and not an original then why can any human claim ownership? We plugged some terms into our Remulak memory bank on Planet Earth and came up with some song called: Make Way For The Monkeys. Another version of the tune was: Watch Out For the Monkeys.

    1. Beldar – I realize that English is not your first language but the origin of copyright is the you own the rights to any cooies, hence copyright.

  10. Paul,

    Far be it from me to predict a copyright result on a case of first impression. To do that in any court is risky, but to do so in the realm of intellectual property is not only beyond most lawyers expertise, it’s beyond their qualifications (additional Bar certification and all).

    In this case, I doubt anyone, including the judge hearing it, could make even an educated prediction – let alone a confidant one.

    Whether or not the owner of the camera actually pushed the button is not dispositive. As the Underhill link above notes, the resulting image must “owe its origin to a human being.”

    In this case, that issue is simply not clear either way. That, and the fact that there is a very photogenic monkey involved, is what makes it fun.

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