Wikimedia Won't Take Down This Photo, Because A Monkey Took It

Wikimedia Won't Take Down This Photo Because a Monkey Took It

Time and time again, British nature photographer David Slater has asked the editors of Wikipedia to stop using his photos without permission. Unfortunately for Slater, at least in the eyes of the Wikimedia Foundation, they're not quite his photos -- because the monkey pressed the shutter.

Slater (or depending on where your loyalties lie, the selfie-loving primate) took the photo all the way back in Indonesia in 2011. After Slater finished setting up his camera in hopes of capturing a crested black macaque, a particularly curious member of the species sidled up and proceeded to take hundreds of selfies.

As Slater explained to The Telegraph:

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.

One thing Slater didn't bargain for, though, is the fact that the photo's unusual origins make it fair game for free use in Wikimedia Commons' eyes. According to a recent transparency report, all of Slater's removal requests have been denied because, technically, since the monkey took it, nobody owns the copyright at all.

Of course, that's all just a matter of opinion until the courts can have their say; Slater's already spent $US17,000 in legal fees trying to resolve the issue. And that's on top of what he paid for the trip and equipment that made the photo possible. As for the monkey -- he just had to show up. [The Telegraph]

This post originally stated that the monkey owned the copyright to the picture; while we still think that SHOULD be true, Wikimedia's position is that when non-humans take photos, nobody owns the copyright at all. We've updated accordingly.



    I can see both sides of this. Since the photographer didn't press the shutter button he can't claim artistic ownership of the photos. However, he does own the camera that the photos were taken on. Its very common for an organization employing a person to have ownership of the ideas that person comes up with while employed.

      Legally (at least in Australia) copyright goes to the one that presses the button. Doesn't matter if somebody else sets everything up (lights, puts the camera on a tripod, etc) and sets the scene (posing a model for example).

        Really, I didn't know that? Does that mean if the Government Department I work for gives me a computer, a network, access to the internet for research, etc, that I own the copyright of the work I do?

          That's not necessarily true. The company I work for has it as part of the contract that any ideas we come up while working for them (of course you'd have to do it in work hours, on their computer, etc) would be their property if you leave.

        That's not actually true. There are different rules (and exceptions) depending on whether you're an employee, you're commissioned to take the photos, when the photos were taken, etc. Suggest reading the following if you are interested.

          Ok, yes, but I was meaning the general case. In particular relating to this. ie. Monkey not an employee and didn't commission the photo.

        Shouldn't everyone be asking the monkey for permission to use it then? Or otherwise Slater should name himself the monkey's agent and set it all up...

          I wanna see that signed contract :-P

      Pretty sure he didn't pay the monkey though.

      That is because they are paying them to work.

    I think the fact that he is going through courts and spending thousands of dollars to fight this makes him a bit of a prick.
    This is the sort of thing that should just be laughed at and shrugged off. He's gotten plenty of publicity and has gotten his name out there... That should be pretty valuable for a photographer rather than owning the rights to a single image.

      Publicity or not, those (I'm assuming) are his most popular work so you would want to have ownership of them. It would be the same as someone taking a product that was made in a factory as their own and not paying you simply because it was made someone who wasn't an employee.

        It could be argued that, the only thing he did was provide equipment. The monkeys obviously picked the location, he went to the location where the monkey's were and it was the monkeys that took the pictures. It could be argued that its not his work. If its not his work, then why should he have legal ownership ? That's why this issue exists.

        Last edited 08/08/14 9:34 am

          I'm not saying you're wrong. Just that if it's that popular (i.e. high earning potential), wouldn't you want to fight it? Keep in mind that this is what he does for a living, so you can't give your work away for free (unless you want to go bankrupt). Even though this will probably be found to not be his work as he didn't take the picture

      I agree. Seems a little excessively self-entitled to me.
      The primate took it and clearly wasn't under comission or employ of anybody.
      That said, if I was the camera owner and somebody else was making a lot of money from that image then I'd be unimpressed. But I assume he wants them removed so he can charge for prints and people can't just use the public domain image freely.

      If anyone is entitled to recompense it's the animal who took the photo, and by extension; his/her entire species.

    These animals are critically endangered. I bet if David Slater set up a fund that supported helping these animals - funded by licence fees and merchandise using the photos - lots of people would buy them, just to get an official licence to use the monkey photo - and the money helps the monkey!

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