Copyright in a monkey selfie

by Walter Olson on August 8, 2014

No, the monkey doesn’t own copyright in the picture it reportedly snapped of itself. But does anyone own it, or is it public domain from the time of the click? [David Post/Volokh, The Passive Voice with comments, GigaOm, BuzzFeed]

{ 5 comments }

1 Mark Biggar 08.08.14 at 11:54 am

If I set up a camera with a motion sensor beside a game trail, do I own the copyright in pictures or not? National Geographic may be disappointed in the answer.

2 Walter Olson 08.08.14 at 8:01 pm

As Lowering the Bar puts it, “the issue arose because the monkey did not own the camera, nor was he authorized to use it (so it wasn’t a ‘work for hire’).”

http://www.loweringthebar.net/2014/08/fight-continues-over-right-to-monkey-selfie.html

3 C 08.09.14 at 12:29 pm

Mark, in the case of the game trail, someone does make at least some creative choice as to where to place the camera and what should trigger it. Perhaps the photographer did not choose the exact subject, but he at least chose the background. It would at least be arguable that this is enough to get a copyright.

In the case of the monkey, the monkey just grabbed the camera, and no creative choices were made by a human at all.

4 Mark Biggar 08.09.14 at 7:10 pm

The way I heard the story the camera was purposefully left in a place for the monkey to play with it. That really make if no different from the motion sensor situation.

5 gitarcarver 08.10.14 at 1:06 pm

Mark,

With all due respect, what you heard doesn’t match Slater’s account:

‘One of them must have accidentally knocked the camera and set it off because the sound caused a bit of a frenzy, said Slater, 46.

‘At first there was a lot of grimacing with their teeth showing because it was probably the first time they had ever seen a reflection.

‘They were quite mischievous jumping all over my equipment, and it looked like they were already posing for the camera when one hit the button.

‘The sound got his attention and he kept pressing it

‘At first it scared the rest of them away but they soon came back – it was amazing to watch.

‘He must have taken hundreds of pictures by the time I got my camera back, but not very many were in focus. He obviously hadn’t worked that out yet.

‘I wish I could have stayed longer as he probably would have taken a full family album.’

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2011051/Black-macaque-takes-self-portrait-Monkey-borrows-photographers-camera.html

(Please notice that the quote is from over 3 years ago, when there wasn’t a dispute.)

Now Slater is saying the monkey was his “assistant.”

“The work that went behind it, in terms of putting the camera on a tripod, setting the image up … it required a large input from myself, and that’s why I own [the] copyright,” he told the BBC.

“You could look at it like this: The monkey was my assistant. And therefore I was the artist behind the image and I had my assistant press the button. This needs to be tested in a court of law.”

Source: http://www.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-british-photographer-monkey-selfie-20140807-story.html

It is clear that Slater was in the process of setting up the camera when the monkey knocked off the tripod and began to play with it is a manner that was not Slater’s intent or design. Slater has also been quoted as saying the camera was on a rock, ready to be mounted onto the tripod but not yet set up.

(It is charitable to say that Slater’s story “evolves” with each day.)

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