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No More Monkeying Around

by | Sep 17, 2014 | Copyright | 0 comments

An entertaining case emerged at the United States Copyright Office recently in regards to a “selfie” taken by a crested black macaque in Indonesia in 2011. British wildlife photographer David J. Slater was on a mission to Indonesia to raise awareness on endangered species via wildlife photography.  While attempting to take an ideal picture of the endangered crested black macaques in their habitat, a female macaque grabbed Slater’s camera and proceeded to take some selfies of herself. One of the images was a highly animated and grinning selfie, which became an instant viral hit.

Consequently, the image was uploaded by Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons is a ginormous database of photos and videos for anyone to use. Slater was unable to gain any royalties from the image uploaded by Wikimedia.  He petitioned to Wikimedia to take the image down reasoning that the copyright in the image belonged to him as the photographer. However, Wikimedia refused to oblige, counter arguing that it was the female ape that took the picture, not Slater, disclaiming his alleged ownership of the image. Wikimedia further argued that the image was in public domain because only humans can own copyrights under the United States Copyright law.

Nonetheless, Slater adamantly refused this notion by Wikimedia.  He stated that the image could only be captured because of his equipment and his creativity in letting the female ape take selfies.  Soon thereafter, this dispute arose before the United States Copyright Office.

In the United States, a copyright protection subsists in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

The United States Copyright Office sided with Wikimedia. It founded its conclusion based on the updated copyright law, which states that an image taken by an animal cannot be copyrighted in the United States. In fact, the Office went on to state that no one owned the copyright in the image and the selfie taken by the female macaque was in the public domain to be used by anyone.  No more monkeying around in copyrights.