If A Monkey Steals Your Camera, Who Owns The Photos?

You can't forget those adorable self-portraits taken by a group of vain monkeys on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The shots are amazing, so amazing that a controversy is brewing over their copyright.

You see, the monkeys took the images using a camera owned by photographer David J Slater. They stole the camera which Slater later retrieved. Hundreds of monkey photos were then processed by Slater and a select few were distributed by Caters News.

So who in this chain owns the rights to these photos? Is it the monkeys who took the pictures? The man who owns the camera but didn't take the photos? Or the news agency that merely sent them out? This issue has not been ironed out, but it could be soon.

Techdirt asked the same copyright question last week and now they have received a take down notice from Caters News. The news agency claims Techdirt is using these monkey images "without David's or our permission" and asks them to "remove these images from your site immediately."

Techdirt is claiming fair use, while Caters News Agency is implying they own the rights to these images. It's a convoluted topic that may take some time to figure out. Meanwhile, we want to know your opinion on this matter. Who do you think owns the images? And do they have a right to pull them down? [Techdirt; Photo: David Slater/Caters]

You can keep up with Kelly Hodgkins, the author of this post, on Twitter or Facebook.



    Personally I would love for the monkeys to be able to own them, but as they can't really express their voices on the legality, I think the photographer owns them as it was his camera and such

      ^^ what he said

      Yep. I say give the monkeys a coffee table book, reality show and put them on the talk show circuit. That sounds like I'm being facetious, but I'm not. I'd be a riot!

    Monkeys aren't in any sense 'creators' under any copyright law I've ever heard of, so there's no chance they own the photos, which is probably a good thing (imagine the law suits ten years down the line, as news agencies argue whether acceptance of agency-provided bananas was in fact tacit agreement to their use of photos).

    As it is, it's extremely likely that the photos are in the public domain, which is bad news for the photographer.

    If the photographer owns the copyright, did he get a model release signed?

    Well you'd wanna be careful about that. If I borrowed a camera off a mate then I'd expect to own the photos I take (as is currently the case). If they make David the owner, then they'd better make sure they don't mess up the first part of this post.

    if a dog craps in the street its the dog owner responsibility. Therefore whoever owns the monkeys owns the photos.

    But i would prefer to think that the monkey supports creative commons.

    Animals cannot own properties. The owner owns the monkey and therefore, the owner of the monkey should own the copyright. If in the case where it was a wild monkey, then the copyright should be public.

      Jay if some old 80 year old lady can will her entire estate to a cat and it is legal yes animals can own property... and if you are asumeing that so wild monkey has a owner????? well you go no from there....

    To animal right groups, chimps reservation etc etc

    So, if a photographer sets up a photo, sets up the camera, the set, etc... and then someone else pushes the actual button on the camera, is it the photographer's piece of work, or the person who pushes the button?

    What if the artist (in this case, using the medium of photography) SET OUT to give the camera to an animal to take a picture, is it still his art or the animal's? If the ART wasn't actually the photo, but the process of someone else taking portraits of themselves, who really is the artist there? The art isn't the photo, the art is the experience of someone else taking the photo.

    so .. am i still good to use this one as my profile picture everywhere right ?http://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/4/2011/07/500x_monkeyshot.jpg

    The photographer owns them. The original image capture was recorded on his own memory card.

      What about cameras that have onboard storage? No memory card or negatives...

        Even so, its his camera, his property.

    Bit of a silly question re. the monkeys. Under all laws I'm aware of, only a human can be considered to legally own property (yes, the wording is human and it will need to be changed one day upon contact with intelligent extra terrestrials).

    So as far as I can see, it's as though the camera's owner took the photos. If I leave my camera lying around and my cat accidentally steps on it and it clicks, basically, I took the photo.

    Agree with olearymo. The photographer owns the device that took the photo, he should own the copyright, unless he has expressly signed over those rights to a third party (Caters News Agency might have paid for the exhibition with the agreement to co-own or outright own any material derived from it.)

    If you own a machine that makes stuff, just because someone else pushed the start button, doesn't mean they own anything it produced.

      Does that mean that the manufacturer of the camera should own every photo taken on it?

        Way to misconstrue something... your argument is invalid. You've legally purchased the camera from the manufacturer and with it any rights to the material that it produces. Now, where it get's murky is if an employee at the manufacturing plant took a photo with a camera on the production line that still belongs to the manufacturer now that might fall in line with what your saying. Come on, use your logic and don't make silly arguments.

    I asked a similar question at a panel discussion on Copyright.

    If I wake up one morning to hear a bird chirping, record it, produce a song and make a million dollars, do I owe the bird royalties?

    Lawsuits should be about who's responsible for this bad act, or how did this bad act happen... Not who owns a photo of a f'n monkey... In 15 years, people aren't going to look back and go "The day the Slater won the photo of a monkey was a moment to remember". Useless, useless information.

    Give the photographer the copyright and the monkey a banana. Everybody wins.

    What kinda monkey is that?

    These monkeys have been trained by our congressmen.I would steel the pictures cameras back and promise the monkeys nothing!

    I believe that the owner of the camera owns the rights..

    Am I the only one that is wondering how a monkey took self portrait pictures ? do monkeys usually take self portraits on a regular basis ?!

    It's already so difficult for the animals to keep their own flesh, their furs or the feathers on their back, they do not need anymore propertie right conflict with us, greedy humans!

    I personally think that the photographer should own them because 1- it's his camera 2-the monkeys would just eat the pix and 3- the monkey will just as satisfied with a banana

    The pictures are already on the net so they are already out there and no one owns them.

    This is not a case of finders keepers. They stole the camera. They are cute though.

    there mine all mine ha ha ha

    This would be a perfect way for funds to be raised to protect them!

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