Wikimedia refuses to delete photos 'owned by monkey'

Aug 6, 2014

Website says photographer has no right to images taken on his camera because a monkey pressed the shutter button

Getty Images

Wikimedia, the not-for-profit foundation behind the Wikipedia website, has refused a photographer's request to take down photos posted to its free picture service because, they argue, a monkey "owns the copyright".

The photographs were taken by a crested black macaque monkey who stole photographer David Slater's camera when he was travelling in Indonesia in 2011. The animal reportedly pressed the shutter button several hundred times taking numerous photos including a handful of "selfies".

The images shot to prominence when they were published by newspapers, websites and magazines around the world, most of whom paid Slater to reproduce them. But Wikimedia editors have now uploaded the images to its Wikimedia Commons database of free pictures, arguing that because a monkey took the pictures, it owns the copyright to them and not Slater.

What does David Slater say?

The images have been uploaded to Wikimedia several times, and each time Slater has requested that they be taken down. In the past, the images have been removed, but this time Wikimedia "decided that the monkey itself actually owned the copyright because it was the one that pressed the shutter button," the Daily Telegraph reports.

Slater argues that even though the monkey pressed the button, he had put a lot of effort into creating the circumstances in which the photograph could be taken. "Some of [Wikimedia's] editors think it should be put back up. I've told them it's not public domain, they've got no right to say that its public domain. A monkey pressed the button, but I did all the setting up".

The Gloucestershire-based photographer says that he financed the trip and the camera equipment cost him a lot of money, so he is entitled to financial compensation when the images are used.

What does the law say?

According to the UK copyright service, to qualify for protection, a work "should be regarded as original, and exhibit a degree of labour, skill or judgement".

If it is judged that Slater meets those criteria, then it will become an offence to copy, rent, broadcast or adapt the photos without his consent. There may be some ambiguity as to the authorship of the photographs, however, given that a monkey was involved in the production of the images. But, Slater insists that it is for a court, not a publisher, to decide who owns the images.

"If the monkey took it, it owns copyright, not me, that's their basic argument. What [Wikimedia] don't realise is that it needs a court to decide that". Slater said he plans to pursue the case.

Three other curious copyright cases

A tattoo artist campaigned to stop the release of the film The Hangover Part II because the film prominently featured the tribal-style design he had tattooed on Mike Tyson's face. The artist, Victor Whitmill, claimed copyright ownership over the design, which was supported by the fact that Tyson had signed a document granting him all rights to the tattoo. Whitmill and Warner Bros. eventually settled out of court, Bloomberg says.

In 1951, two comics called Dennis the Menace went on sale on the very same day, 12 March. One was published in the US and the other in the UK, but both followed the adventures of a mischievous child called Dennis. The two creators ultimately agreed that the two comics has emerged simultaneously by complete chance and decided not to sue one another, Plagiarism Today notes.

Photographs of the Eiffel Tower at night cannot be reproduced without permission from the tower's operating company, Societe d'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel. The company owns the rights to the distinctive lighting array within the tower. There is a way around the restriction, however: photographs of the Eiffel Tower alone are illegal, but "French law permits evening photos of the tower as part of the Parisian cityscape or a panoramic scene," Bloomberg notes. "And daytime photos of the 1,050-foot lattice structure carry no restrictions".

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