If an animal takes a picture using your camera, to whom does the copyright for the resulting photo belong?
It may seem like a silly question on the surface, but according to The Telegraph the issue is no monkey business: a nature photographer finds himself caught in a legal battle surrounding that exact situation.
Wildlife photographer David J. Slater’s camera was taken by a macaque monkey in Indonesia several years ago, and the inquisitive animal reportedly snapped several hundred photos before Slater was able to rescue his equipment.
The photo above is one of the resulting images, and after it was published the photo received worldwide publicity. Wikimedia Commons, an online database of images and videos that are free for anyone to use, added the photo to their collection.
The Telegraph reports Slater complained to Wikimedia, saying he owns the copyright of the image and that making it freely available damages his right to collect royalties for the image.
That request has many people discussing the nature of copyright law. Non-humans cannot own a copyright in the U.S., and some are arguing that if the monkey is the true author of the photo there can be no copyright claim on the image.
Slater tells the Telegraph: “If the monkey took it, it owns copyright, not me, that’s their basic argument. What they don’t realise is that it needs a court to decide that.”
The Telegraph reports Salter said other editors at Wikimedia Commons have honored similar requests regarding the image in the past, but he said others at Wikimedia regularly upload the image again. Wikimedia Commons users argued the merits of the most recent deletion request before making a decision to keep the photo online, click here for that discussion.
Slater spoke to the Telegraph about the issue, saying he faces an estimated legal bill in the thousands of dollars. He says that photo was one product of an expensive trip and months of work and that to give it away for free jeopardizes his income. Click here for much more on this story from The Telegraph.