In an interesting case of man vs. animal vs. copyright law, Wikipedia has refused repeated requests from a photographer to remove a famous series of monkey self-portraits because the animal pressed the button, which they believe puts the image into the public domain.
David Slater is a British nature photographer who was attempting to get the perfect shot of a crested black macaque while traveling through Indonesia in 2011. Eventually one of the rather jubilant monkeys decided to hijack the photographer’s equipment to work on her photography skills. The monkey ended up taking hundreds of grinning self-portraits, which of course went viral on the Internet soon after.
Slater said about the experience at the time to the Telegraph:
They were quite mischievous jumping all over my equipment, and it looked like they were already posing for the camera when one hit the button. The sound got his attention and he kept pressing it. At first it scared the rest of them away but they soon came back – it was amazing to watch. He must have taken hundreds of pictures by the time I got my camera back, but not very many were in focus. He obviously hadn’t worked that out yet.
Wikipedia then posted the images to its site claiming that since the monkey actually took the shot, she should own copyright and not Slater, thus putting the pictures into the public domain. The images were taken down several times due to Slater’s complaints, but ultimately Wikipedia editors have decided to keep them posted.
Slater said about the ordeal:
If the monkey took it, it owns copyright, not me, that’s their basic argument. What they don’t realise is that it needs a court to decide that. Some of their editors think it should be put back up. I’ve told them it’s not public domain, they’ve got no right to say that its public domain. A monkey pressed the button, but I did all the setting up.
Now Wikipedia could be facing a legal battle to keep these hilarious pictures posted. U.S. copyright law can be a grey area and while using the photos for editorial purposes would definitely fall under “fair use,” according to the law, putting the image into the public domain (and making it available for free use) without the photographer’s consent is a whole different story.
Who do you think should own copyright to the best selfie ever taken: the photographer, the monkey or the public?