Monkey Selfie and the bizarre Copyright Battle!

In 2011, David Slater, a British photographer traveled to Indonesia to photograph a Crested Black Macaque. While on this expedition, in the words of the Telegraph, Slater watched as “…one of the animals came up to investigate his equipment, hijacked a camera and took hundreds of selfies.” One of them – a selfie by a female Macaque went viral.

The viral photo was uploaded on Wikimedia Commons. Later, Slater sent a notice-and-take down to the Wikipedia Foundation and TechDirt, but the request was denied by Wikipedia Foundation. When the battle for Copyright Ownership was underway, the Wikipedia community voted against Slater’s ownership claims and posted the photo online in its collection of public domain images, arguing that Slater did not own the picture’s copyright because he did not take the picture. The monkey did. And since the monkey could not own copyrights, nobody did.

According to the photographer, ownership of the photograph should ideally vest in him, as the same was a result of huge financial investment by him. He further claimed that in such a case, his livelihood would be taken away!

Current US Copyright policy states that animals cannot own copyrights. According to Copyright Compendium § 202.02(b): The term ‘authorship’ implies that, for a work to be copyrightable, it must owe its origin to a human being. Materials produced solely by nature, by plants, or by animals are not copyrightable.

Therefore, the photo is certainly in the public domain. However, Slater’s argument that he was the cause of the viral photo, when considered, the Copyright law says, in order to claim authorship the person should have caused the work to be created. However, in this case, the monkey snatched and clicked and a perfect image came into existence. There was no substantial contribution to the final image by the photographer himself. Therefore, the Wikipedia Foundation is of the opinion that there was no one upon whom to bestow copyrights, and so the image falls into the public domain.

Analyzing this with respect to Indian Copyright provisions, the first section that adds to the notoriety of the entire situation is section 2 (d) of the Copyright Act, 1957, which clearly states that an author in relation to a photograph is the person taking the photograph (probably our legislators never contemplated a monkey clicking a photograph and hence the term ‘person’ is in the definition).

The quandary in the Copyright law brought to light, in the words of the Washington Post, “highlights the murky and perilous landscape of Intellectual Property Rights in the digital era.” On a lighter note, a picture-perfect Selfie taken by the monkey should find place in the world’s best perfect selfies ever taken! Let us know who you think owns the Copyright on this picture by taking part in the discussion at IP Professor.

Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4, Source 5

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

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