Monkey Selfie – Who Owns The Copyright?


A monkey walks into a camera store, buys himself a new Canon 5D MKIII, hops on a plane back to the jungle, takes a selfie and uploads it to the internet! Now there’s a huge row over who owns the copyright because apparently animals cannot do so. You couldn’t make it up could you?

OK so this isn’t quite what happened, but the absurdity of the legal battle that has come from one photographers work would make you think that’s what took place. If you’ve not heard about this story already, let me fill in the blanks for you…

Wildlife photographer David J Slater spent the best part of £2000 on a trip to Indonesia to photograph the endangered crested black macaque, during his trip he became close to a group of the animals who took interest in him and his camera equipment. He sets his camera on a tripod, and lets the monkeys investigate his camera and play with it (whilst holding onto the leg of the tripod securely so they didn’t run away with it), the chance result being the monkey hits the shutter button, giving us the worlds most well known monkey selfie.

Wikimedia published the image and David asked them to take it down which they did, only for Tomasz Kozlowski to upload it again later saying that under U.S. law any picture taken by an animal cannot have copyright.

In an interview with the Daily Telegrapgh Mr Kozlowski said: “The work did not originate from Mr Slater as by his own admission he did not take the picture, the monkey did. However monkeys can’t and don’t own copyrights.”

Now the US Copyright Office have come out and said the image can’t be copyrighted because it was taken by an animal and not David Himself. In-fact let me give you the entire quote before we explore this:

“Because copyright law is limited to ‘original intellectual conceptions of the author,’ the Office will refuse to register a claim if it determines that a human being did not create the work,” said the US Copyright Office. “The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants.”

So let’s take a moment to explore this, the argument here is that the monkey pressed the shutter button essentially, and hence it would effectively own the copyright to the image (except it can’t so it’s free for everyone to use). Does the cameraman who worked on the latest Hollywood blockbuster movie own the copyright to the finished production then? After all, he operates the camera?

Now the copyright law is a little different in each country, but given David lives in the UK, our law states:

Under Section 9 (1) of the UK’s Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, the author of the work is the ‘person who creates it’.

Should David had not taken the trip, the photograph wouldn’t have happened. Should David had not taken his camera with him, the photograph wouldn’t have happened. Should David had not put the correct settings into the camera for a good exposure, the photograph would not have happened. Should David had not have put it on a tripod at the correct height, the photograph would not have happened….

So who has had the most creative input into this image, David who did all that work to make the photograph happen, or the Monkey who merely pressed the shutter button?

Why is this such an issue one may ask? Quite simply David has probably lost around £10,000 already from people not feeling the need to pay him to license his image to use, but more importantly are the implications this will have on photographers in future if it’s deemed that whoever presses the shutter immediately owns the copyright, it’s a pretty cloudy law as is and this will certainly test it across the world.

A Monkey DID NOT walk into a camera store, but itself a new Canon 5D MKIII, hop on a plane back to the jungle and upload a selfie to the internet….


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