PetaPixel

Can Monkeys Own Rights to Photos?

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.

(via Techdirt via kottke.org)


 
 
  • http://twitter.com/Samcornwell Sam Cornwell

    Well there’s plenty of photographers that are not much better than monkeys.

  • Hawk1500

    I know close to nothing about copyright laws, but it seems weird that whoever takes the pictures owns the pictures.  For example, if I am using my camera, set up all the settings, etc.  Some kid comes up, pushes me out of the way, and takes the picture before I could press the shutter, then the picture is his?  That situation kind of applies to Mr. Slater here.

    So I guess my question is, even though it’s my camera (perhaps with all the copyright info embedded into the exif info), if it’s hijacked, then the pictures belong to the thief?

  • Hawk1500

    I know close to nothing about copyright laws, but it seems weird that whoever takes the pictures owns the pictures.  For example, if I am using my camera, set up all the settings, etc.  Some kid comes up, pushes me out of the way, and takes the picture before I could press the shutter, then the picture is his?  That situation kind of applies to Mr. Slater here.

    So I guess my question is, even though it’s my camera (perhaps with all the copyright info embedded into the exif info), if it’s hijacked, then the pictures belong to the thief?

  • Mr.A

    so time lapses taken with an intervalometer, doesn’t have copyright?

  • http://twitter.com/ZDP189 Dan

    Does this mean that any photograph that is triggered by a the subject belongs to the subject?  Such as:

    a tiger owns a photo triggered when it crossed an IR beam, or
    a person smiling into a camera triggering a smile sensor?

  • Fotojack

    LOL…and how did this stupid reasoning by the author even get started anyway!?! Good lord, people! Let’s get back on the planet, OK? Gawd!

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.kantor John Kantor

    Monkeys would own the copyright if they had lawyers.

  • http://twitter.com/steakPinball Brian Turner

    ‘Accordingly, there can be no copyright associated with any of the photos
    taken by the animals since they cannot be considered as “authors”.’

    This sounds like the works are supposed to be in the public domain.

  • Zoe Wiseman

    no. the time lapses were composed by the photographer who set the intervalometer to take said photographs. even though the photographer isn’t pushing the trigger, the photographer has set the trigger to be pushed. Therefore the photographer owns copyright.

  • Mouring

    The first example of you setting up the camera, tripod, etc and someone else pushing the button a legal argument could be held that you have joint copyright.  

    The second one.. The thief owns the camera.  Just like the thief owns the 50 word poem he wrote on your stolen phone.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PQ54IG5P6I73FWHYGC4LVDZQYI Michael

    Is this even a serious question?  Really??

  • http://profiles.google.com/slimspidey Spider- Man

    Well we’ll see those damn dirty apes in court!

  • Douglas

    This is all monkey business if you ask me!

  • http://twitter.com/Blackbird_2 Bob Dunkin

    Seems to be.  But, it’ll likely only be a serious question once. The way I see it is that there wouldn’t be any problem if this was non-commercial use.  But, since it appears to be used for commercial use, then the question has to be asked…mainly because I don’t think this particular situation has come up before, and therefore needs to be addressed. 

    If we assume that the photographer (who OWNS the camera) had the idea to have the monkeys take self-portraits, then I think the copyright stays with the photographer (owner) no matter what.  This is a little bit more tricky since the camera was ‘stolen’ from him.  As noted, monkeys aren’t persons, and so cannot hold copyright.  But, looking at this from the law standpoint (outside of copyright), what obligations does the zoo have to the animal (or you to your pet) when something happens.  This might be where it gets a little grey.  Since they are legally responsible for the animal (proper food, water, shelter…) then one could potentially argue that whatever the animal does ‘belongs’ to the zoo.  Therefore the copyright ‘could’ rightly be held by the zoo. 

    Honestly though, it should stay with the owner of the camera…

  • http://twitter.com/Blackbird_2 Bob Dunkin

    Seems to be.  But, it’ll likely only be a serious question once. The way I see it is that there wouldn’t be any problem if this was non-commercial use.  But, since it appears to be used for commercial use, then the question has to be asked…mainly because I don’t think this particular situation has come up before, and therefore needs to be addressed. 

    If we assume that the photographer (who OWNS the camera) had the idea to have the monkeys take self-portraits, then I think the copyright stays with the photographer (owner) no matter what.  This is a little bit more tricky since the camera was ‘stolen’ from him.  As noted, monkeys aren’t persons, and so cannot hold copyright.  But, looking at this from the law standpoint (outside of copyright), what obligations does the zoo have to the animal (or you to your pet) when something happens.  This might be where it gets a little grey.  Since they are legally responsible for the animal (proper food, water, shelter…) then one could potentially argue that whatever the animal does ‘belongs’ to the zoo.  Therefore the copyright ‘could’ rightly be held by the zoo. 

    Honestly though, it should stay with the owner of the camera…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=70802902 Leigh M. Smith

    So what if i hand my camera to someone to hold while i hit the remote shutter? Who owns it then?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=70802902 Leigh M. Smith

    So what if i hand my camera to someone to hold while i hit the remote shutter? Who owns it then?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=70802902 Leigh M. Smith

    I just poste this farther down… 
    So what if i hand my camera to someone to hold while i hit the remote shutter? Who owns it then?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=70802902 Leigh M. Smith

    I just poste this farther down… 
    So what if i hand my camera to someone to hold while i hit the remote shutter? Who owns it then?

  • Simard

    Well one would have to assume if they can hold right to images they can own property or get a drivers license.

  • Simard

    Well one would have to assume if they can hold right to images they can own property or get a drivers license.

  • Anonymous

    Good thing this isn’t PETApixel

  • Anonymous

    I have been present at a shoot by Karl Lagerfeld, he frames and composes, but has a lackey to actually fire the shutter for him.
    Gregory Crewdson never touches a camera, expresses a distaste for them, and “merely” directs, at a million+ a shot.
    Copyright is a minefield.

  • Iangaj

    The introduction to this blog stated “unwittingly”…I am not so sure!  These photos look very ‘wittingly’ to me!

  • Iangaj

    The introduction to this blog stated “unwittingly”…I am not so sure!  These photos look very ‘wittingly’ to me!

  • Russell Burlingame

    Monkeys WITH lawyers? Seems redundant, doesn’t it?

  • Russell Burlingame

    I should think you, because in that case you’re the one who’s doing all the actual work of setting up the composition of the shot and all that and the other person is really just a glorified tripod. But the moment you ask them to look through the viewfinder and verify something for you, that copyright is shared.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christopher-Moore/527177687 Christopher Moore

    When a company hires a photographer to take photographs for their use then the photographer owns the copyright but not the license to use the images.  At least, that’s my understanding.  So in this case, if the camera owner claimed that the images were taken with his authorization then it could also be argued that, while he does NOT own the copyright, he DOES own the distribution rights…
     

  • Zoe Wiseman

    good question

  • Macack