No, Wikipedia Doesn’t Think A Monkey Owns The Copyright On This Selfie

“This is how Planet of the Apes started.” Or maybe not.

1. A monkey took this selfie in Indonesia in 2011.

David Slater/Caters

The crested black macaque managed to take the picture after playing around with British photographer David Slater’s equipment.

2. The monkey selfie is currently the centre of a copyright row between Wikipedia and Slater – supposedly on the grounds that Wikipedia thinks the monkey owns the copyright to the photo.

David Slater/Caters

Slater, who owned the camera that the picture was taken on, claims the copyright is his, and demanded that Wikipedia remove the image, as revealed in the transparency report released today by the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organisation that has oversight of Wikipedia and related projects. Wikimedia refused his demand.

Slater seems to be the source of the claim that Wikipedia thinks the copyright belongs to the monkey. “If the monkey took it, it owns copyright, not me, that’s their basic argument,” he told The Telegraph.

3. But that’s not true. The Wikipedia page is very clear that they think nobody owns the copyright. Because monkeys can’t own the copyright on things.

Wikipedia’s argument is simply that Slater cannot own the copyright, because (despite the camera being his) he didn’t create the picture himself. When Slater first sold the picture around the world in 2011, he was very clear that the picture came about by accident.

The case – which Slater suggests he is planning to bring to court – raises some interesting questions. How much intent does a photographer have to have to capture a specific image before they can claim copyright on it? Would this be different if, say, Slater had deliberately set up a tripwire or light trap to trigger the camera when a monkey moved into frame?

Equally, does simply owning the tools a picture was produced with (in this case, the camera) mean you own the copyright? Does the owner of a wall get the copyright to graffiti painted on it? If you borrow somebody’s paints and brushes to create a painting, do they have part of the copyright?

17. Sigh.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

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