The famous monkey selfie.

Monkey Selfie Provokes Lawsuit, Widens Neuroscience Inquiry

Selfies trend across species. The famous monkey selfie shown above was taken by a crested black macaque (Macaca nigra) in Indonesia. The modish monkey happened upon the unattended camera of David Slater, a nature photographer. It was instinctual.

While our monkey friend has likely forgotten his selfie (isn’t this the nature of selfies?), Slater has not. The monkey selfie quickly took off online and ended up on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons. These sites host images in the public domain–which is to say, Wikimedia lets people see and use the monkey selfie without paying David Slater. And thus the legal controversy of the monkey selfie was born.

The monkey selfie poses a curious legal question: “If a monkey snaps a selfie in the forest, does he own it?” If the monkey owns the selfie, then Wikimedia can ignore Slater’s request to take down the photo and not pay him to use it. In fact, Wikimedia should thank the monkey for such a click-generating selfie.

But Slater argues that because the selfie was taken on his camera, it is actually he who owns the monkey’s selfie. The Carter News Agency, who had licensed “Slater’s” monkey selfie, further argues that the case is one of license; they hold the license to the photo, which they purchased from Slater. Others express doubt that the monkey — who has the best claim to copyright on the photos — would have licensed the image. The jungle of questions remains for the courts.

The monkey selfie phenomenon also responds to a longstanding neuroscience question: Do selfie-makers prefer to snap their left cheek or right cheek? Italian neuroscientists recently published a study of selfies in the online journal PLOSone. Based on iPhone selfies, they demonstrated that non-artist, non-monkey humans preferred to selfie their right cheek. This was in contrast to the preference of portraitists, who more commonly paint the left side of their subjects, as reported in the leading journal Nature. Based on 1,474 portraits, British scientists determined that the left cheek was the most popular choice for portraits, the evolutionary predecessor of the selfie.

How does the science pan out in monkeys? The photo gallery above gives a few supposed monkey selfies. Perhaps you’ve noticed–as I have–that the monkeys seem to be looking straight at the camera. Could it be that monkeys lack cheek preference in selfies? And so dawns a cheeky field of inquiry for evolutionary neuroscientists: is the across-species increase in cognitive ability correlated with increased selfie cheek preference?

Inquisitr will keep you posted.