Monkey see, monkey do, monkey win copyright

monkeyWhen a monkey got hold of a camera in 2011 in the forests of Indonesia nobody could have predicted what would happen next. This one photo has gone on to inspire a change in copyright law.

During 2011 British photographer David Slater journeyed to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi where he set out to photograph the Celebes crested macaques. During this journey he met this monkey who proceeded to take his camera and take these selfies.

This is where the monkeying around begins. After being circulated by the media the photo made its way onto Wikimedia commons. This is a free media repository where people can obtain photos without needing to pay royalties.

Slater is claiming copyright over the image as it was his gear. Though Wikimedia commons has set the image as having no copyright as the monkey took the image but monkeys can’t have copyright on an image.  As Wikimedia wrote on their page saying that “This file is in the public domain, because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested.”

Wikimedia said in a transparency statement released this month they stated that “We received a takedown request from the photographer, claiming that he owned the copyright to the photographs. We didn’t agree, so we denied the request.”


Not happy with the decision Slater has spent $17,000 attempting to have the images removed the site. As the Telegraph newspaper reported Slater feels this fiasco is “jeopardizing his income,” as the photo can be used without him receiving royalties.

He was dealt a blow though the other day when The U.S. Copyright Office which is part of the Library of Congress announced new rules the other day. They stated that “The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals or plants.” They went so far as to use “a photograph taken by a monkey,” as one example of the work’s not eligible.

It is also a bitter blow for any ghosts considering entering the industry as the statement said, “Likewise, the office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings.”

Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons

By Cale Russell is a testament to Cale’s commitment to the education of people around the world on the topic of animals and conservation, through the sharing of topical and newsworthy information.

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