Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Wikipedia and the Battle of the Monkey Selfie

Copyright law can lead to some pretty strange and unusual legal situations, and possibly one of the most unusual on record took place over a monkey selfie. Glenn Duker, solicitor and lawyer, explains.

Glenn Duker

Professional wildlife photographer David Slater went to Indonesia in 2011 to capture images of the local creatures. While getting his camera and other equipment ready, his photo shoot was hijacked by a mischievous monkey – a crested black macaque – which grabbed his camera and took a series of selfies. The resulting images were absolute gold – funny, cute, and a one-in-a-million event. Unsurprisingly, as soon as the photos landed on the internet, they went viral.

However, the trouble started when the photos eventually ended up on Wikipedia – and more specifically, the Wikipedia Commons, which collects photos and images it considers to be in the public domain and therefore free for anyone to use. This angered Slater, who considered the photo to be under his copyright. In his point of view, he was the ‘author’ of the photo and should be compensated whenever it was reproduced. He demanded that Wikipedia take it down.

However, Wikipedia responded that technically, the monkey was the author. Therefore, because non-human authors can’t own copyright under US law, it was owned by no-one. In their argument, Slater had not contributed enough to the photograph to grant him ownership of the copyright – as in their definition, an author has “contributed to the expressive content”. 

Slater is aggrieved and feels that Wikipedia’s editors have “a communistic view of life” and are trying to push a political agenda. He has urged people to stop using the site, although it appears his pleas have been largely unsuccessful. In the meantime, the photograph continues to be widely distributed and enjoyed by internet users around the world.

If you find yourself facing a battle over intellectual property and copyright, lawyer Glenn Duker is a seasoned professional you can turn to for trustworthy assistance and advice.

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