Copyright law is boring crap – until it involves a monkey!

In 2011, British wildlife photographer David Slater traveled to Indonesia. He set up his equipment to take a photo of a crested black macaque. Suddenly, the monkey grabbed Slater’s camera and started to take selfies. As you can imagine, the selfies were hilarious and adorable, and the photos went viral as soon as they hit the Internet…

This sounds like an incredible opportunity for a photographer, right? Wrong. The photo eventually ended up on Wikipedia, as well as on Wikimedia Commons, an arm of the Wikimedia Foundation that hosts photos that are in the public domain and therefore free to use. Slater asked Wikimedia to take the photo down, arguing that the copyright belongs to him, and that he should get paid whenever someone wants to use the photo.

But Wikimedia has refused to remove the photo, since it was technically taken by the monkey, not by Slater…

Slater accused Wikipedia, which mentioned the monkey selfie in a recent transparency report, of “making a news story” of the issue. He added that he believes Wikipedia editors, most of whom are volunteers, “have a communistic view of life…”

He urged people to stop using Wikipedia. “It’s important to tell people that Wikipedia should be not used as a source of truth,” he said.

Katherine Maher, a spokeswoman for Wikimedia, emailed the following statement to HuffPost:

We take these assessments very seriously, and researched both sides of the argument. We didn’t think the monkey owned the copyright — instead, our assessment was that there’s no one who owns the copyright. That means that the image falls into the public domain.

Under US law, for example, copyright claims cannot vest in to non-human authors (that is, non-human authors can’t own copyrights). It’s clear the monkey was the photographer. To claim copyright, the photographer would have had to make substantial contributions to the final image, and even then, they’d only have copyright for those alterations, not the underlying image.

Meanwhile, the monkey seems to be enjoying the whole kerfuffle.

Thanks, Marc Perkel

21 thoughts on “Copyright law is boring crap – until it involves a monkey!

    • Update says:

      8/5/17: “Naruto, via his self-appointed lawyers from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is in the process of dropping his lawsuit over the now infamous monkey selfies. That’s according to a Friday legal filing with the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which is being asked to hold off on issuing a ruling that everybody believes is going to go against Naruto.
      The lawyers for Naruto, Slater, and Blurb told the appeals court (PDF) Friday that an out-of-court settlement was near and that the court should refrain from issuing a ruling.
      “The Parties have agreed on a general framework for a settlement subject to the negotiation and resolution of specific terms. Given the current progress of settlement discussions, the Parties are optimistic that they will be able to reach an agreement that will resolve all claims in this matter,” according to the filing.
      US law allows the “prevailing party” in a copyright infringement action, whether they be the plaintiff or defendant, to seek legal fees and costs of the opposing side—but they’re not always guaranteed to be awarded. And during oral arguments in the case last month, a three-judge panel of the court of appeals eviscerated Naruto’s arguments.
      Two years of litigation amounts to a boatload of legal fees and costs. PETA could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars—a sum likely to be reduced or forgiven under terms of the upcoming settlement. All of which means that PETA, which also made some outrageous arguments about online liability in this litigation, probably doesn’t want to keep the cash meter running.”
      “Well King, looks like this case is closed!”. (Sergeant Preston of the Yukon)

  1. Shyster says:

    Surely there’s an attorney out there with the expertise necessary to provide the unnamed crested black macaque with some obviously much needed legal representation with regard to his rights as both a sentient and sapient individual, perhaps on the basis of the legally-binding protocol annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam that requires the EU and its member states to grant legal status to animals by virtue of sentience.
    See 17 USC § 106A ( ), also § 107 (Fair Use Doctrine)

    • Update says:

      “Monkey Should Own Copyright to His Selfie, Argues Primate Expert in Case Appeal” “Monkeys such as the Indonesian crested macaque who snapped a self-portrait are highly intelligent and deserve to own copyrights, a primatologist told the Ninth Circuit last week.
      Agustin Fuentes, a primate expert and biological anthropologist from the University of Notre Dame, submitted an 18-page amicus brief (pdf) on Aug. 4 supporting the quest to overturn a federal judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit over ownership of monkey selfies.”
      “There is a great deal of data demonstrating conclusively that primates have complex social cognition, and are able to manipulate objects to gain desired effects,” Fuentes wrote in his 18-page brief. Fuentes said Naruto “likely made the connection between manipulation of the camera as an item and the sound of the shutter and changing image in the lens as the shutter clicked.” Although Naruto may not understand the concept of a photograph, Fuentes said, the monkey intentionally engaged with the camera by observing human behavior and then using the device while making funny faces, clicking the shutter button and responding to camera noises. “Macaques in particular are characterized by extremely developed capacities for object manipulation, and strong tendencies to engage in such behavior,” Fuentes wrote. See “NARUTO, by and through his Next Friend, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. DAVID J. SLATER, et al., Defendants-Appellees”

  2. ® says:

    “…He (David Slater) claims that buying the cameras, spending thousands of pounds to transport himself to Indonesia, and performing the act of neglect that allowed the monkeys to steal his cameras entitles him to full authorship of the image, regardless of who pushed the button. “In law, if I have an assistant then I still own the copyright,” he told the “Today” show. “I believe there’s a case to be had that the monkey was my assistant.”
    But if one is to believe his own telling of the monkey stealing his camera, Slater not only didn’t ask the monkeys to take the selfies but eventually took the camera away. Without intent (Slater did not specifically set up an environment to take a photo), clear direction (monkeys do not listen to anyone), or an employer-employee agreement (no monkeys signed anything), Slater’s claims that the monkeys were acting on his behalf are absurd.”
    “Wikipedia Defends the Monkey Selfie”

  3. Update says:

    “Remember the monkey selfie? PETA are suing to give the monkey the rights to it” (9/23/15) The lawsuit names British wildlife photographer David Slater and the self-publishing company Blurb, who published a book called Wildlife Personalities that contained Naruto’s selfies, which PETA argues entitles the monkey to damages. They want all proceeds from the photos to be spent on Naruto, his family, and community. “If we prevail in this lawsuit, it will be the first time that a nonhuman animal is declared the owner of property, rather than being declared a piece of property himself or herself,” PETA general counsel Jeffrey Kerr said in a statement.
    This isn’t even the first debate about the rights of monkeys this year. For a few hours in April, two chimpanzees were recognized as legal persons in New York. {see link}

    • John Scopes says:

      November 10, 2015: “Even if apes could own copyrights, PETA is representing wrong monkey, publisher says.” “How much more bizarre could a lawsuit get in which the plaintiff is a monkey who is suing a nature photographer and a publisher for copyright infringement? Answer: a lot more.” Article includes several links relating to the case, including the San Francisco-based publisher Blurb Inc’s first defense papers (PDF) to the lawsuit PETA has brought on behalf of the monkey and the photographer David Slater’s motion to dismiss, the introduction to which reads as follows: “A monkey, an animal-rights organization and a primatologist walk into federal court to sue for infringement of the monkey’s claimed copyright. What seems like the setup for a punchline is really happening. It should not be happening. Under Cetacean Community v. Bush, 386 F.3d 1169 (9th Cir. 2004), dismissal of this action is required for lack of standing and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Monkey see, monkey sue is not good law – at least not in the Ninth Circuit.” Re: Cetacean Community v. Bush see

  4. ® says:

    More than two years after a documentary filmmaker challenged the copyright to the simple lyrics of the song “Happy Birthday,” a federal judge ruled Tuesday that the copyright is invalid. The result could undo Warner/Chappell’s lucrative licensing business around the song, once estimated to be $2 million per year. The company is likely to appeal the ruling to the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

  5. Milo says:

    (Jan 6, 2016) SAN FRANCISCO—A federal judge on Wednesday said that a monkey that swiped a British nature photographer’s camera during an Indonesian jungle shoot and snapped selfies cannot own the intellectual property rights to those handful of pictures. The judge said during a brief hearing that he would dismiss the suit in an upcoming order, and at one point said PETA’s argument was a “stretch.”

  6. Toktok says:

    “News that Paramount is suing the creators of a Star Trek fan film for copyright infringement quickly spread across the galaxy last week. More traditional copyright issues such as the likenesses of characters came into play, but the company also said it owned the Klingon language, a claim that could have far-reaching implications.” Includes link to legal brief and other entertainments.

  7. Wheel of Justice says:

    “…I submitted a brief on behalf of primatologist Agustín Fuentes, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, that supports Naruto’s case. In Dec. 2014, the United States Copyright Office declared that US copyright laws don’t apply to non-humans, which makes this case particularly ripe for review.
    …In this case, the only fair interpretation of the Copyright Act is that the entity responsible for creating the photos—Naruto—is therefore the author of the photos. And if Naruto is the author, he is entitled to the protections afforded to others under the Copyright Act.
    If this lawsuit succeeds, it will be the first time that a non-human animal is declared the owner of property. But even if the court does not decide in Naruto’s favor, it’s groundbreaking cases like these that challenge the status quo and pave the way for future litigation that will afford non-human animals the fundamental rights they deserve.”

  8. Ipso facto says:

    “In 1508, Barthélemy de Chasseneuz earned fame and fortune for his eloquent representation of the rats of his French province. These rats had been charged with destroying the barley crop and also with ignoring the court order to appear and defend themselves. Chassenée argued successfully that the rats hadn’t come because the court had failed to provide reasonable protection from the village cats along the route.” Edward Payson Evans, “The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals” (1906), p. 18.

  9. 比里 says:

    China provisionally grants Trump 38 trademarks – including for escort service (3/8/17)
    China Approves 9 Trump Trademarks Previously Rejected (6/14/17)
    Chinese labor activist arrested and two others have disappeared after investigating alleged labor abuses at a factory that makes shoes for Ivanka Trump (5/13/17) See also

  10. Aforesaid notwithstanding says:

    “Photographer and PETA reach settlement over rights to monkey’s selfie” (LA Times 9/11/17) “Attorneys announced a settlement Monday in a lawsuit over who owns the copyright to selfie photographs taken by a monkey. Under the deal, the photographer whose camera was used to take the photo agreed to donate 25% of any future revenue of the images to charities dedicated to protecting crested macaques in Indonesia, lawyers for an animal rights group said. Attorneys for the group and the photographer, David Slater, asked the San Francisco-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the case and throw out a lower court decision that said animals cannot own copyrights. There was no immediate ruling from the 9th Circuit.”

  11. Podophiliac says:

    “Ivanka Trump Faces Courtroom Showdown Over $785 Sandals” Edgardo Osorio, the co-founder and creative director of fashion label Aquazzura, calls the ‘Wild Thing’ sandal one of his most iconic creations. Coveted by celebrities and fashion bloggers alike, these $785 suede numbers became a true “It” shoe since gaining traction in 2015. They helped catapult the designer and his label to international prominence. So when he discovered that the clothing brand run by the daughter of now-President Donald Trump was making a similar item for only $65, he called in the lawyers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s