Who owns the rights to a selfie snapped by a monkey? The monkey who unwittingly pressed the shutter button? Or the photographer who set it up owns the camera, and financed the trip to the monkey’s home?
I would have thought the latter: how can a monkey (especially a wild one) own rights, or benefit from them? But according to today’s Torygraph (via reader Hempenstein), a Celebes crested macaque (also known as the crested black macaque), roaming somewhere in the wilds of Indonesia, has the photo rights:
Wikimedia, the organisation behind Wikipedia, has refused a photographer’s repeated requests to remove one of his images which is used online without his permission, claiming that because a monkey pressed the shutter button it owns the copyright.
British nature photographer David Slater was in Indonesia in 2011 attempting to get the perfect image of a crested black macaque when one of the animals came up to investigate his equipment, hijacked a camera and took hundreds of selfies.
One particularly narcissistic monkey went wild with the camera:
“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.”
But after appearing on websites, newspapers, magazines and television shows around the world, Mr Slater is now facing a legal battle with Wikimedia after the organisation added the image to its collection of royalty-free images online. The Wikimedia Commons is a collection of 22,302,592 images and videos that are free to use by anyone online, and editors have included Mr Slater’s image among its database.
The Gloucestershire-based photographer now claims that the decision is jeopardising his income as anyone can take the image and publish it for free, without having to pay him a royalty. He complained To Wikimedia that he owned the copyright of the image, but a recent transparency report from the group, which details all the removal requests it has received, reveals that editors decided that the monkey itself actually owned the copyright because it was the one that pressed the shutter button.
. . . The image has been removed in the past when he complained, but different editors regularly upload it once again.
“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.”
Slater now faces £10,000 in legal costs to recover his rights. And he’s got a good argument:
Mr Slater said that the photography trip was extremely expensive and that he has not made much money from the image despite its enormous popularity.
“That trip cost me about £2,000 for that monkey shot. Not to mention the £5,000 of equipment I carried, the insurance, the computer stuff I used to process the images. Photography is an expensive profession that’s being encroached upon. They’re taking our livelihoods away,” he said.
“For every 100000 images I take, one makes money that keeps me going. And that was one of those images. It was like a year of work, really.”
This is the contested image of Macaca nigra. You have to admit that it’s really good, but Wikimedia is behaving badly so that it can display this thing without paying for it. After all, it was the photographer who made the whole thing possible and must have published the photo somewhere.
Much as I believe in animal rights, I can’t see them having artistic rights! Well, maybe an elephant that paints with its trunk, or a cat who walks on a keyboard and composes a piece, for they can benefit from their activities. But all this monkey did was press a button at the opportune time:
Maybe I should ask Peter Singer about this. . .