Wikimedia Stands Up for Monkey Photographer Rights, Refuses to Take Down Monkey Selfie


The controversy surrounding the monkey selfies above, which were taken by an endangered crested black macaque using photographer David Slater‘s equipment, is heating up once again as Wikipedia parent Wikimedia refuses to remove the photo from its commons library, claiming that Slater does not own the copyright.

This is a battle that has gone on for some time between Slater/Caters (who licensed the photo for him) and the Internet as a whole. In 2011, we told you about how the blog TechDirt had received a takedown request from Caters, claiming that they were violating Slater’s copyright by using the photo in, ironically enough, an article that questioned Slater’s claim over the photo given the strange circumstances.

But that particular dispute won’t have nearly the impact that this one is having. Wikimedia has several of the selfies up in the Commons, all marked as Public Domain, and Slater seems to be preparing for a legal battle over this.

“If the monkey took it, it owns copyright, not me, that’s their basic argument. What they don’t realise is that it needs a court to decide that,” he told the The Telegraph. “I’ve told them it’s not public domain, they’ve got no right to say that it’s public domain. A monkey pressed the button, but I did all the setting up.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 10.11.11 AM

Whether or not the letter of the law agrees with Slater’s claim is up for debate, but one thing is certain: he’s missed out on a lot of potential licensing fees thanks in large part to the photo being uploaded to the Commons.

And now he’s looking at spending somewhere in the vicinity of £10,000 (~$16,800 USD) to take the case to court. What would you do if you were in his shoes? Let us know in the comments down below.

(via The Telegraph)

Correction: The original version of this post said that Wikimedia claimed the monkey owned the copyright for this photo. That was incorrect. They simply disagree with Mr. Slater’s claim that HE is the owner. The text has been corrected to reflect this fact.

  • Eric Lefebvre

    Slater said the photoshoot that resulted in these pictures took place after he set up a camera on a tripod. He left the equipment for a few moments and when he returned one of the creatures was, well, monkeying around with it.

    “They were quite mischievous, jumping all over my equipment. One hit the button. The sound got his attention and he kept pressing it. At first it scared the rest of them away but they soon came back – it was amazing to watch.

    “At first there was a lot of grimacing with their teeth showing.” But then the animals seemed to settle down.

    “He must have taken hundreds of pictures by the time I got my camera back.”
    Source : The Guardian | July 4, 2011 (not putting a link so we don’t have to wait for moderation).

    So he set the camera on a tripod, walked away and the ape LITERALLY took the camera and ran off with it to play.

    You can even see pictures of Slater with the tripod in his hands.

    Look, I’m all about protecting photographers rights (just emailed two photographers to inform them I had found a photographer using their photos in her portfolio) but I don’t believe that Slater has a case here.

    Contribution to the shot isn’t simply bringing a camera (not in terms of copyright). There needs to be AUTHORSHIP and in this case Slater did not in any way, shape or form contribute to authoring the image.

    In the end the courts will have to decide. None of us are lawyers or judges.

    Hopefully they won’t settle out of court and we’ll be able to see the actual decision.

  • David Worthington

    Ultimately what this case will be about is if anyone has the right to use photos if and only if in “their opinion” the copyright is questionable. There is no question the images were a result of the photographers equipment, planning and technique. Airing the perception of ambiguous authorship is nebulous at best regardless of what “promotional utterances” the copyright holder may or may not have used to promote them. Otherwise we are getting “model releases” for the Aurora Borealis and anyone saying a particular image is “magical” is taken to mean ambiguous authorship.

  • kassim

    1. Timer – it’s yours. It is just a delayed shutter mechanism. You initiated it, you own it. If a monkey pressed the shutter(in timer mode), she owns the copyright(revoked immediately as animal cannot hold copyright).

    2. Assistants – Unless you two have an agreement, it’s your assistants who own the right. You better make one if you don’t already have such agreement. “Work for hire” law might covers this, but you know, just to be sure. In this case, the monkey was not Mr. Slater’s employee, so it was not work for hire situation.

  • kassim

    Stealing is punishable by law. Let see if that is the case.

  • Jeffrey Remick

    I would say unless the monkey can vote and pay taxes, how would he own copyrights?

  • Keith McDonald

    I think Wikimedia is pushing the limits of copyright laws which were set up to protect people’s rights to created materials. I doubt the monkey realized what he was doing when he was playing with the camera. I think by the ‘reasonable person’ standard Mr. Slater made it possible to create this photo and should have copyright protection. I like Wikipedia and their approach to collaborative content creation, but they are over reaching in this case. While I guess Wikimedia is using this case in an attempt to test the copyright laws, and maybe even redefine them, to increase the pool of available material for their sites, I would question their risk analysis. How much is this going to cost them in the long run in the line of potential dollar damages and general mistrust?

  • J VonDutchie

    Just think about how this would work in wildlife photography done with a motion-triggered camera: the photographer buys the camera; flies overseas to his destination and hikes for a day or two to reach the territory of some rare animal (let’s say a snow leopard); then sets up the equipment. According to Wikimedia, the snow leopard, who trips the shutter by merely walking into the area, would own the copyright to the photo. Does that sound right? I don’t think so…

  • mazrog

    The title of this article completely contradicts itself. It says that Wikimedia is standing up for “Monkey Photographer Rights”, but refuses to take the picture down. Wikimedia is not “standing up” for Mr. Slater (which is who “Monkey Photographer” is technically referring to), they’re actually doing the complete opposite. Unless of course, by “Monkey Photographer”, they were actually referring to the monkey, in which case “Photographer Monkey” would be more accurate. Either way, the title is ridiculous.