Who Owns The Copyright In A Monkey Selfie?

Let's Talk Legal

In 2011, UK wildlife photographer David Slater was taking photos of crested black macaque monkeys in Indonesia when one of the monkeys snatched his camera and took a series of photos of itself. One of these photos, an amusing grinning “selfie”, made headlines around the world and was subsequently uploaded to the Wikimedia Commons website.

Mr Slater, claiming that the photo’s presence on the site was adversely affecting his livelihood, asked Wikimedia to remove it. Wikimedia refused stating: “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”.

[private]The story raises interesting issues about the ownership of copyright.  The relevant legislation states that the first owner of a photo is the person who created it (unless made in the course of employment, in which case it may be the employer). However, this person must be a “qualifying person” – you will be unsurprised to discover that a monkey does not qualify!

I was recently interviewed on the story by Johnny I’Anson on BBC Radio Leeds who asked: “are Wikimedia correct and is there effectively no copyright in the monkey selfie?”  In my opinion, Wikimedia are incorrect and there is copyright in the monkey selfie which belongs to Mr Slater.

It is disingenuous to apply legislation so rigidly that the intention of the legislation is subverted.  Copyright laws can often seem clunky or out of date as they struggle to keep up with technological changes. However, it is important to think about the purpose of the laws, which is to reward creative endeavour.

Ultimately, copyright laws provide a framework which must be applied with common sense and, if necessary, tested in the courts. Hopefully common sense will prevail in this case and, as Mr Slater made all the necessary arrangements for the photo to be created, copyright in the photo will be found to exist and belong to Mr Slater.  As for the value of the photo now that a hi-res version is freely in circulation on the internet, well it may now only be worth peanuts…[/private]

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