Copyright law is boring. Unless there’s a monkey involved. Then it’s hilarious.
In 2011, British wildlife photographer David Slater traveled to Indonesia. He set up his equipment to take a photo of a crested black macaque. Suddenly, the monkey grabbed Slater’s camera and started to take selfies. As you can imagine, the selfies were hilarious and adorable, and the photos went viral as soon as they hit the Internet.
This sounds like an incredible opportunity for a photographer, right? Wrong. The photo eventually ended up on Wikipedia, as well as on Wikimedia Commons, an arm of the Wikimedia Foundation that hosts photos that are in the public domain and therefore free to use. Slater asked Wikimedia to take the photo down, arguing that the copyright belongs to him, and that he should get paid whenever someone wants to use the photo.
But Wikimedia has refused to remove the photo, since it was technically taken by the monkey, not by Slater. The Huffington Post spoke to Slater, who said he was “angry” and “aggrieved” over the situation.
Slater accused Wikipedia, which mentioned the monkey selfie in a recent transparency report, of “making a news story” of the issue. He added that he believes Wikipedia editors, most of whom are volunteers, “have a communistic view of life.”
“It’s potentially being run by people with political agendas,” Slater said of Wikipedia. “The people who are editing it could be a new Adolf Hitler or a new Stalin … They’re using whatever suits their agenda.”
The heart of the copyright issue, Bressler explained, is that a monkey is not considered a person under the law, and only a person can be an “author.” Legally speaking, only humans and corporations are “people.” Animals, on the other hand, are considered property, not people.