This sure is monkey business! Who owns the copyright when a monkey takes a selfie? A monkey takes his own picture and it spreads like wild fire. While crested black macaques were being photographed by a UK photographer, David Slater, one monkey took hold of his camera and took a few pictures of himself. When the photographer saw this series of pictures available on Wikimedia’s picture database allowing anyone free usage he was outraged. The photographer is threatening to sue.
This is a lawsuit that could never have happened before the age of social media. Wikimedia claims that the photographer does not own the picture because the monkey is the one who pushed the button. Our question is “do non-humans have ownership rights?” David Slater claims he’s not a rich photographer and because of this uproar he’s lost approximately $17,000 because Wikimedia made it free. The nature photographer says he put in a lot of effort to capture these pictures. He said he had been following the monkeys in the Indonesian jungle for three days. Wikimedia is holding their ground by saying Slater does not own the picture. The spokesperson for Wikimedia says “Copyright claims can’t be registered to non-human authors……that doesn’t mean that the monkey owns the copyright, it just means the human who owns the camera doesn’t.”
This sure is a tough case. On one hand Wikimedia claims the selfie taken by the macaque is owned by the monkey, on the other hand it argues that the photograph is in the public domain because it cannot be owned by a monkey. Hypocrisy or Ignorance? To make things fair a court could rule that the monkey owns the copyright and could appoint a guardian or trustee to collect the royalties owed for Wikimedia’s use of the photograph, but things are not that easy. You kind of have to give some credit to the monkey who had enough intellectual ability to operate the camera. As of now Wikipedia is not backing down and is refusing to remove the picture. Even though Slater states that he bought the camera, charged the battery, took it into the jungle, turned it on, retrieved the camera and edited the photo and that the photograph is registered under his name with the US copyright office, the law states “works produced by mechanical processes or random selection without any contribution by a human author are not register-able” and with that being said there really wasn’t any contribution by a human.
All arguments aside this is sad. Once again humans are again trying to define, control, and exploit the rights and property of vulnerable beings who were unfortunate not to have been born human. Now the question arises “Are humans really as superior as they think they are?”