Tag Archives: selfie

The long copyright battle over a monkey’s selfie

By MARK PEARSON

The booklet Understanding Copyright and Related Rights (WIPO, 2016) is an excellent entry-point for learning about the basic copyright principles applying globally. Any monkey would understand it.

Monkey selfie taken by Indonesian macaque named Naruto on equipment set up by photographer David Slater. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons. © disputed.

It explains that ‘copyright’ translates into ‘author’s rights’ in many other languages because it is the creator of the work—the ‘author’ of written works—who holds the right to reproduce their outputs.

The word ‘copyright’ in English refers to that act itself—the ‘right’ to ‘copy’ something you have created. As the holder of that right, you have the legal power to license others to do so as well.

A fascinating international example of the principle that copyright rests with the creator of a work is the Monkey case (2018). In 2011 an Indonesian monkey named Naruto – a crested black macaque – took a ‘selfie’ with camera equipment set up by wildlife photographer David Slater. Monkey see, monkey do.

Slater complained to Wikimedia Commons after the images were posted there, but they refused his demand that he take them down, arguing he did not hold copyright in the images because he did not actually take them – the monkey did (Wikimedia Foundation, 2014).

The basic principle stood: copyright rests with the human creator of a work (Monkey case, 2018).

However, the monkey did not get to claim damages for the photographer’s use of the work. The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied an application by an animal rights group to have the monkey’s copyright in the images formally acknowledged, stating that animals did not have standing. The photographer and the monkey (represented by animal rights group PETA) negotiated a settlement (Toliver, 2017).

Monkey case: Naruto Monkey PETA v Slater CA9 No. 16-15469 D.C. No. 3:15-cv-04324-WHO Opinion 04 23 18 < https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4444209-Naruto-Monkey-PETA-v-Slater-CA9-Opinion-04-23-18.html >

Toliver, Z. 2017. ‘Settlement Reached: ‘Monkey Selfie’ Case Broke New Ground for Animal Rights’, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) website. [11 September.] < https://www.peta.org/blog/settlement-reached-monkey-selfie-case-broke-new-ground-animal-rights/ >.

Wikimedia Foundation (2014). ‘Monkey Selfie’, Wikimedia Foundation Transparency Report. https://transparency.wikimedia.org/stories.html

© Mark Pearson 2018

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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