Wikipedia and the Macaque selfie saga: Who REALLY owns the right to our images?

See update from 07/08/2014 below.

Remember the Disney movie-like story of the macaque who stole a camera and decided to go ahead and take a bunch of selfies? Well, who knew that this beautiful tale of primate posing would cause such an uproar. British photographer David Slater, who owns the camera the cheeky monkey (geddit?) borrowed for a selfie session, doesn’t like the fact his image has been plastered all over the internet under a creative commons license without enough credit or payment for use, and has requested that Wikipedia remove it from its Wikimedia Commons image database.

Fast-forward a few months and Wikipedia has outright refused. The reason? It claims the macaque owns the image photographer can’t possibly own the image.

According to Gawker, the organisation claims that because the macaque was smart enough to press the shutter button himself and because it’s his face, the photographer can’t claim it’s his image. Of course Wikipedia’s justification is massively helped by the fact the macaque can’t make a claim that his copyright is being violated, but who knows maybe he’s a hippie-free-for-all kinda fella anyway?

As you’d expect, Slater is having none of it and is now suing Wikipedia, claiming that without him the macaque wouldn’t have been able to take the photo in the first place:

‘Some of their editors think it should be put back up. 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.’

Who knows what’s going to happen in this unusual and oh-so-2014 court case, but it does raise some interesting questions about image rights. Wikipedia is essentially claiming that if you take a photo with someone else’s camera the resulting image is more likely to belong to you than the owner of the device – especially if it’s a selfie.

On the other hand, Slater is relying on the fact that it’s his device and he turned it on and ‘set it up’ for the amazing resulting shot. Maybe the ruling of this particular case will set a precedent for selfie-taking creature laws in the future? After all, animals are getting pretty damn good at this whole selfie lark.

Image via Gawker and (of course) David Slater.

UPDATE: The Wikimedia Foundation got in touch and wanted us to clarify a few things. Firstly, I joked that the ‘monkey owns the image’ and they want us to be clear that it does not.

Here’s an official statement so we’re all crystal clear that the monkey won’t be taking her image and setting up any online portfolios any time soon:

‘We don’t agree that the photographer in question has copyright over the images. That doesn’t mean the monkey owns the copyright: it just means that the human who owns the camera doesn’t.

‘For example, under US copyright law, copyright claims cannot vest in to non-human authors (that is, non-human authors can’t own copyrights) — and the monkey was the photographer. To claim copyright, the photographer would have had to make substantial contributions to the final image, and even then, they’d only have copyright for those alterations, not the underlying image.’

So to sum up, monkeys can totally be photographers, but they cannot own the rights to any of the beautiful photos they take. Sound fair?

Oh also, I was wildly sexist and assumed the smart macaque was male, when in fact she’s a female.


Becca Caddy

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