We’ve all heard of a monkey suit, but this story puts a legalese spin on the idiom. A stunning monkey selfie of a smiling primate has pitted the colossal Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia and its non-profit host Wikimedia against a UK photographer, who is now a few selfies short of a barrel.
"If a monkey takes a selfie in the forest, who owns the copyright?" asks the Washington Post yesterday in a cleverly worded headline. Writes the Post: "By now, the legal pseudo-doctrine of 'he who takes the selfie owns the selfie' has settled into the collective consciousness. But what happens if an animal takes the photo?"
Wikipedia’s argument against the copyright claim? Monkey see, monkey do, so monkey keep. The legal quagmire started when David Slater, from Coleford, Gloucestershire submitted a handful of monkey selfies to Wikipedia, then asked for them back. Nope, says Wiki. The claim was rejected on the grounds that a “non-human” took them.
While visiting the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in 2011, Slater set up his photo equipment and noticed that some of his furry primates started to monkey around with the cameras. He stepped back, and the creative genius began. Voila! The photo shoot produced hundreds of grainy duds but a few stunning photos, worthy of a National Geographic cover, were produced.
Slater and his monkey selfie pics made headlines ‘round the world. The photographer, who is certainly ruing his decision to send them to Wiki to begin with, said Wikimedia’s decision to include his image in its database has now resulted in a loss of earnings.
He explains: “It’s all based on a technicality. I own the photo but because the monkey pressed the trigger and took the photo, they’re claiming the monkey owns the copyright,” Slater said. ”There’s a lot more to copyright than who pushes the trigger on the camera. I set up the shot, I was behind all the components in taking that image.”
Slater also says that his image is losing royalty value day by day, as Wikimedia Commons also has the photos on its free-to-use repository.
“The problem is they’re telling people it’s free to use because it’s in the public domain, they even have a link for people to download the high-res, so they’re actively encouraging people to use it however they like,” Slater grumbled.
Indeed, under Wikipedia’s entry for Celebes crested macaque, we have this explanation, under the subhead of "Copyright test case."
In 2014, selfies taken by a crested black macaque seemed set to establish legal precedent, after the Wikimedia Foundation rejected a copyright claim. The photo had been sold widely by David Slater, a professional nature photographer, who allowed the macaque to play with his camera as part of his interaction with the animals.
After the photos were uploaded to Wikimedia, the organization refused to delete them, claiming “This file is in the public domain, because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested.”
According to Slater, by pushing the photographs into the public domain, Wikimedia's action threatens his income because he can no longer claim a royalty payment on the images.
If only the endangered monkey knew what a hullabaloo he caused.
Says the UK’s Daily Mail: “Slater, whose encounter with the macaques happened in 2011, could sue the company for statutory damages of up to $30,000.”
“I’ve lost tens-of-thousands of pounds and I have every right to sue them for a loss of earnings,” he said. “I’ve contacted a lawyer in the U.S. who is willing to take on the case they’re just waiting for my go ahead. Nothing gives Wikimedia the right to decide who owns the copyright of the image and give people permission to use it for free, no court has decided that.”
We're not lawyers over here, so we turn to you. What are your thoughts on the ownership battle? Sound off below.