The Monkey Selfies
As you, gentle reader, intend to be more than an accidental photographer, it is important that you know something about copyright, licensing of images, etc and I was doing some research before writing a suitable post when I came across the fascinating story of The Monkey Selfies!
So what if a monkey takes a “selfie”? Who holds the copyright?
These questions should induce one of those “you couldn’t make it up” moments but they are being considered by the Courts in America!
The monkey selfies are a series of selfies taken by Celebes crested macaques using equipment belonging to the British nature photographer David Slater. The copyright status of the images has been the subject of disputes involving Wikimedia Commons, which has hosted the images over Slater's objections (on the grounds that the images were in the public domain as an animal couldn't hold the copyright) and also People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who have argued that the macaque should be assigned the copyright.
Slater has argued that he has a valid copyright claim based on the fact that he engineered the situation that resulted in the pictures, by travelling to Indonesia, befriending a troop of wild macaques, and setting up his camera equipment in such a way that a "selfie" picture might come about. The Wikimedia Foundation's 2014 refusal to remove the pictures from its Wikimedia Commons image library was based on the understanding that copyright is held by the creator, that a non-human creator (not being a legal person) cannot hold copyright, and that the images are thus in the public domain. In December 2014, the United States Copyright Office stated that works created by a non-human, such as a photograph taken by a monkey, are not copyrightable. A number of legal experts in the US and UK have nevertheless argued that Slater's role in the process that led to the pictures being taken may have been sufficient to establish a valid copyright claim, stating that this is a decision that would have to be made by a court.
In a separate dispute PETA has been trying to use the monkey selfies to establish a legal precedent that animals can be declared copyright holders. Slater had published a book containing the photographs through self-publishing company Blurb, Inc. In September 2015, PETA filed a lawsuit against Slater and Blurb, requesting that the monkey be assigned copyright and that PETA be appointed to administer proceeds from the photos for the endangered species' benefit. In 2016, a judge ruled that the monkey cannot own the copyright to the images.
PETA appealed, and the case is ongoing with the Court considering such weighty issues as to whether PETA are actually legally “close” enough to act on behalf of the monkey and, if so, are they actually acting for the right monkey? If so, what material damage has been caused to the monkey if its copyright is breached? If damages were awarded how would they be paid? What would happen to the copyright on the monkey’s death? (normally, in UK human copyright cases, the copyright would be part of the deceased’s estate and for the executors of that estate to administer).
Slater stated in July 2017 that as a result of the pictures having been made freely available for commercial re-use on Wikimedia Commons and the ongoing PETA lawsuit, he was financially ruined and was considering giving up his career as a wildlife photographer.
What's your verdict?
You'll be pleased to know that the one you've all been waiting for - the Hyperfocal Distance post - is written and will be online next!!!