When we shared the story of how monkeys hijacked photographer David Slater’s camera and unwittingly snapped some self-portraits, we asked the question “doesn’t the monkey technically own the rights to the images?” Techdirt, a blog that often highlights copyright issues, went one step further and dedicated a whole post to that question.
Technically, in most cases, whoever makes the actual work gets the copyright. That is, if you hand your camera to a stranger to take your photo, technically that stranger holds the copyright on the photo […]
[…] how did the copyright get assigned to Caters [a news agency]? I can’t see how there’s been a legal transfer. The monkeys were unlikely to have sold or licensed the work. I’m assuming that it’s likely that the photographer, Slater, probably submitted the photos to the agency, and from a common sense view of things, that would make perfect sense. But from a letter-of-the-law view of things, Slater almost certainly does not hold the copyrights on those images, and has no legal right to then sell, license or assign them to Caters.
One of the many commenters offered the following response:
An “author” for purposes of Title 17 falls into only one of two classes. The “author” is either a “natural person” or a “juridicial person” (e.g., corporation, LLC, etc.).
Accordingly, there can be no copyright associated with any of the photos taken by the animals since they cannot be considered as “authors”. [#]
I guess that settles the question. Monkeys aren’t “natural persons” and therefore cannot own the copyright to works of art they create.