The Monkey Selfie: a Tough Nut to Crack for Legal System and Photo Community


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The following story about famous British nature photographer David Slater and the monkey selfie has been dividing the photo community for days and may potentially turn the legal understanding of animals upside down completely.

When Slater visited the Indonesian isle Sulawesi in 2011 to take pictures of macaques, he left his camera unattended for a moment. A macaque female took advantage of this circumstance, grabbed the camera and immediately took a few hundred photos – including selfies. A little later, Slater openly presented the outstanding pictures and portrayed how exactly the photos came into being in numerous interviews. Here you’ll find the Daily Mail article from back then.

As the photographer neither took the picture himself nor directly contributed to its coming into being, Wikipedia parent company Wikimedia declared it common property and added it to their commons collection. Slater thus complained and called for Wikimedia to delete the picture from their collection, as he believes to be the originator. But since the monkey, not Slater, shot the photo, Wikimedia refused to meet the take-down request. Slater now wants court to decide in that matter.

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

© unnamed Sulawesi crested macaque (with David Slater‘s camera)

Interesting in this context are the texts on Slater’s website. He repeatedly declares just how strongly he feels about the critically endangered black apes. If this is really the case, why insist on a contentious right and haul Wikimedia before the courts? Wouldn’t the pictures rather contribute to preserving this species by reaching as many people as possible and pointing to the fact how wonderful and intelligent these animals are?

  1. I am with Wikipedia.
    The monkey took the selfie so it couldn’t be claimed by the photographer.
    If the right were with the photographer because he created the conditions by the macaque shoot the photo then the engineers that designed and built the camera could say too that they created the conditions with which any person (photographer or not) could take a photograph so they would be the holders of the copyrights of every picture in film or digital on the sea, earth or space…

    Reply

    1. I am with Wikipedia.
      The monkey took the selfie so it couldn’t be claimed by the photographer.
      If the right were with the photographer because he created the conditions by the macaque shoot the photo then the engineers that designed and built the camera could say too that they created the conditions with which any person (photographer or not) could take a photograph so they would be the holders of the copyrights of every picture in film or digital on the sea, earth or space…

      That’s exactly how I see it. Of course, monkeys are not smart enough to exercise a copyright nor do most legal systems recognize them as an entity which could theoretically hold a copyright, this however is no sufficient reason to break the law and give copyright to the “next best entity”.

      Reply

  2. […] three weeks after the monkey business revolving around the monkey selfie ensued, the US Copyright Office made a comment on the issue in its 1,222-page long document […]

    Reply

  3. […] probably remember the curious story about the monky selfie I’ve reported about here and here in August last year? Just to refresh your memory in case you don’t, back in 2011 a […]

    Reply

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