Legal Battle Over 'Monkey Selfie': Wikipedia Drives Photog Bananas

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on August 07, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A selfie taken by an Indonesian monkey with a wildlife photographer's camera is raising some interesting copyright law questions.

British wildlife photographer David Slater was in Indonesia in 2011 when he set up his camera equipment to photograph a crested black macaque monkey, reports The Huffington Post. The monkey then grabbed Slater's camera and began taking photographs, including a surprisingly decent selfie.

When this monkey selfie was posted online and began going viral, Slater assumed that he owned the copyright to the image. But one of the Internet's largest websites is now claiming that the monkey selfie actually belongs to everyone. What gives?

Copyrights protect the legal rights of creators of original works, such as music, literary writing, movies, and other types of creative expression, including photographs.

Under The Copyright Act, the holders of copyrights have exclusive rights in their copyrighted works. These include the rights to reproduce the work, distribute copies of the work, perform or display the work publicly, or authorize others to do any of these through a process called licensing.

Wikipedia: 'Image Falls Into Public Domain'

When Slater discovered that the monkey photo had been added to Wikipedia as a photo in the public domain -- meaning it's free for anyone to use in any way they see fit -- he requested they remove it. Wikipedia refused, claiming that since the photo was actually taken by the monkey, Slater did not own the rights to it.

A spokesperson for Wikimedia, the arm of the Wikimedia Foundation that hosts public domain photos, told The Huffington Post "It's clear the monkey was the photographer. Because the monkey took the picture, it means that there was no one on whom to bestow copyright, so the image falls into the public domain."

If copyright comes down to who took the picture, shouldn't that mean the monkey owns the copyright? Unfortunately for monkeys, animals are not legally considered "persons" and are typically treated more like property. That's why you can't leave your house directly to your dog in your will. And that's why animals, even monkeys, can't hold copyrights.

Slater told The Huffington Post that he is "aggrieved" by the situation and is urging people to stop using Wikipedia.

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