NO ONE would ever call intellectual property rights monkey business. That’s why a set of images of monkeys, taken by the animals themselves, is creating such a hullabaloo. The debate boils down to this: Who owns the intellectual rights to a selfie when the photo’s author isn’t human? The logical answer is the wildlife photographer who made the photo possible.
David Slater spent a few days at a national park in Indonesia in 2011 taking pictures of crested black macaques. He momentarily left his tripod unattended and the curious monkeys took his camera. Attracted by the sound of the shutter, the monkeys held their own photo shoot, producing a series of images including a now-famous — and startlingly good — monkey selfie.
Two of the photos eventually landed in the Wikimedia Commons page, an online database of royalty-free media files that is run by Wikipedia’s operator. Slater asked Wikimedia to take down the images, claiming he owned them, since they were shot with his camera. Wikimedia rejected the petition, explaining that, according to US copyright laws, “works that originate from a non-human source can’t claim copyright.”
But Slater owned the photo equipment and placed it in front on the monkeys. It wouldn’t have happened without him. To claim that the photo cannot be licensed because the monkey has the best claim on the image is specious reasoning.
The best path forward would be for Slater to sell the rights to a photo syndicate, so more media can use the unique images legally. The world surely will want to see pictures of this photographically gifted monkey, who took the selfie to the next level.