Remember that monkey who gained worldwide fame a few years ago by taking a selfie? Well, according to multiple reports, the famous photo is now the subject of a contentious copyright battle between a photographer and Wikimedia Commons.

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David Slater traveled to the Indonesian jungle in 2011 with his camera. When he walked away from his tripod, the macaque snatched it and took a few photos of himself.

Slater claims the photos are his property and cannot be used online without his permission. He argues that he has lost a lot of money due to the unauthorized use of what he believes is his property.

Wikimedia and another blog, however, have pushed back, arguing that the pictures cannot be Slater's property because he didn't actually take them.

Slater is looking into obtaining legal counsel, so eventually this strange legal battle may end up in court.

Much more on the story below, from The Washington Post:

Slater has also tangled with the blog Techdirt, which first claimed that Slater could not own the copyright of an image taken by an animal.

“The background in my opinion is that they’re communists, they don’t believe in property, they don’t believe that artists should have rights to their work,” Slater said of Techdirt in particular.


In the case of this trigger-happy monkey, the Wikimedia Foundation revealed Wednesday, in its first-ever transparency report, that it denied Slater’s request to have the image removed from Wikimedia Commons.

Slater claimed to own the copyright. Wikimedia disagreed.

In an interview, Wikimedia Foundation’s Chief Communications Officer Katherine Maher said the organization is confident that the legal basis for denying Slater’s request is sound, because the person that takes the photo should own the copyright. But a person didn’t take this one.

“Monkeys don’t own copyrights,” Maher said. “What we found is that U.S. copyright law says that works that originate from a non-human source can’t claim copyright.”

According to Maher, Slater would have had to make “substantial changes” to the image — beyond cropping, color correcting and other cosmetic adjustments — in order to own the copyright over the changed product.

“So what we found was that if the photographer doesn’t have copyright and the monkey doesn’t have copyright then there’s no one to bestow the copyright upon,” Maher said. Thus, the lawyers validated what Wikimedia Commons’ editor community had determined to be a public-domain reasoning for leaving the image up.

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