Wikimedia Foundation

Copyright Monkey Business

By Andrew Hendricks

Take a lesson from one photographer's lost legal battle with a monkey. Whoever snaps the shot owns the copyright—or at least, if you don't snap it yourself, you don't own it!

In 2014 while in Indonesia, British nature photographer David Slater was photographing crested black macaques, one particularly mischievous monkey, attracted by the shutter sound of one of Slater's camera's it had picked up, and began snapping photographs of itself while staring quite-charmingly into the lens.

The now infamous monkey-selfie has unexpectedly caused a bit of a stir in both the photography community and among copyright law advocates after the photo was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, an online repository of free-use images, despite the protests of Slater. Part of the Wikimedia Foundation, along with Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons only uploads photography and images that exist in the public domain or that no copyright can be claimed.

In both Britain and America (as in most countries) the law clearly states that copyright belongs to the person taking video or photograph, not the owner of the equipment. Threatening legal action against the Wikimedia Foundation, Slater still insisted that the photograph was still his intellectual property. However this year, his allegations of copyright infringement finally got the U.S. Copyright Office to officially rule on the issue, taking the side of the Wikimedia Foundation[end link], reaffirming that that no one owns the photo. So despite any headlines you might have read that implied monkey was ruled owner of a digital image, sadly, all this ruling affirmed was that “a piece of work cannot be copyrighted if it is not created by a human.”

All-in-all, the decision was met with mixed opinions among primate photographers and photographers of primates.