The United States Copyright Office has decided that a photograph a monkey took of itself — a monkey selfie — belongs to the monkey and not to the photographer who was standing nearby at the time… sort of. The strange case started in 2011 when nature photographer David Slater was on the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi taking pictures of black macaque monkeys. While there, one of the macaque monkeys took Slater’s camera and took hundreds of pictures, including a monkey selfie.
So began Wikimedia V. Slater — the case of the Monkey Selfie. Wikimedia describes itself as “a global movement whose mission is to bring free educational content to the world” on its official site. They operate numerous wikis, including Wikipedia and WikiBooks. When Wikimedia used the picture on their websites, the photographer whose camera was used to take the monkey selfie cried foul and sued Wikimedia for copyright infringement. Wikimedia’s claim was that the monkey selfie didn’t belong to photographer David Slater because he didn’t take it. Since the monkey took the selfie, the photograph belonged to the monkey — and since monkey’s can’t own copyrights, the photograph didn’t belong to anyone — making the monkey selfie part of the creative commons.
“Under U.S. laws, the copyright cannot be owned by a non-human. It doesn’t belong to the monkey, but it doesn’t belong to the photographer either.”
Slater shot back in a statement insisting that he owned the monkey selfie since it was taken with his camera.
“[There is] a lot more to copyright than who pushes the trigger on the camera.”
In a ruling handed down this week by the United States Copyright Office, officials didn’t agree with photographer David Slater. According to NDTV, the ruling over the monkey selfie stated:
“The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals or plants. Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings, although the Office may register a work where the application or the deposit copy state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit.”
According to that ruling, the Office is really covering all their bases. “Divine or supernatural beings” seems to mean that if a selfie shows up taken by Jesus, Buddha, Allah, or for that matter, a ghost or the like, they would be just as free from copyright as the monkey selfie.
In an update to copyright regulations an practices, the United States Copyright Office cited a mural painted by an elephant and the macaque monkey selfie as examples of works that cannot be copyrighted under U.S. Copyright law. The photographer whose camera was used for the monkey selfie was not impressed. David Slater’s response:
“I own the photo but because the monkey pressed the trigger and took the photo, they’re claiming the monkey owns the copyright.”
Which isn’t exactly correct. The monkey can’t own the monkey selfie. But neither can the photographer. In the end, the monkey selfie belongs to all of us.
[Photo Credit: Monkey]