Thursday, August 7, 2014
Wikimedia, the US-based organisation behind Wikipedia, has refused a photographer’s repeated requests to remove one of his images which is used online without his permission, claiming that because a monkey pressed the shutter button it should own the copyright. British nature photographer David Slater was in Indonesia in 2011 attempting to get the perfect image of a crested black macaque when one of the animals came up to investigate his equipment, hijacked a camera and took hundreds of selfies.
Many of them were blurry and some were pointed at the jungle floor, but among them were a handful of fantastic images - including a selfie taken by a grinning female macaque which made headlines around the world and brought Mr Slater his 15 minutes of fame.
Law professors seem to agree with Wikipedia:
“It’s a great final-exam question for a copyright class,” says June Besek, executive director of the Kernochan Center for Law, Media, and the Arts at Columbia Law School. “Under the copyright law as it’s been interpreted, there has to be human authorship for there to be copyright. So I would say there isn’t copyright on the photo.”
But didn't Slater play an important role in the photo’s production, by providing the camera to the monkey?
Not really, Besek says. Authorship of a photo usually involves choosing the perfect angle, moment, and light. “If the situation were different—so the photographer set up a jungle photo, and the photographer stepped out for a smoke, and the monkey ran up and pressed the button, then I would say yes, there is human authorship,” Besek says. A macaque grabbing your Nikon isn’t good enough.
“The photographer doesn’t own it. And the monkey doesn’t, either. It’s in the public domain,” says Chris Sprigman, a law professor at New York University. "To copyright a work, an author needs to show they produced it through their own creativity. It doesn’t matter if you traveled thousands of miles to capture a photo if you weren’t involved in actually snapping it.