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Who Owns the Copyright to Images Taken By a Monkey?

July 22, 2011 Copyright 4 Comments

Written by: Charlie Borland

A very interesting case is developing that pits an online magazine against a wildlife photographer, David Slater, as to who owns the copyright to images taken by monkeys using Slaters camera.

It is pretty common knowledge that a photographer owns the copyright to an image they take once they click of the shutter. They are the creator of the works and under U.S. Copyright Laws that makes the holder of the copyright, unless of course there is something in writing stating otherwise, such as a work-for-hire agreement.

Photographer David Slater was in Indonesia photographing monkeys when he apparently left a camera out. It was picked up by a monkey who tripped the shutter. Slater states that the monkey was so intrigued by the sound that they kept clicking the shutter and the results, once Slater retrieved his camera, were some good shots.

Recently, online magazine Techdirt came across the story and published it on their site. Caters New Agency, contracted by Slater to license the images, saw the Techdirt story and sent a cease and desist order to remove the photos from their website. Techdirt then began to question who actually owns the copyright to images taken by a monkey and claim Fair Use and so far have refused to take down the images.

I would love to embed the photos to show you the great shots, but would rather not wade into this as I am sure we have not heard the end of the story.



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Currently there are "4 comments" on this Article:

  1. Maybe Mr. Slater also left his laptop unattended for a minute, and a monkey, intrigued by the clicking sound of the keys, pressed ‘send’ and… the cease and desist e-mail went out? (Just a thought) :)

  2. Stratocaster says:

    If an infinite number of monkeys used typewriters for an infinite amount of time, sooner or later one of them would produce “Hamlet”.

  3. marcus says:

    I’m not a lawyer, but I’m guessing Techdirt is going to lose this. Copyright resides with the photographer, but animals have no legal standing in the courts. They animals are considered property and as such, this would be no different than using a remote shutter release to create the image.

  4. Rob says:

    Hi Marcus,

    I completely disagree with you on two counts (I am not a lawyer either):

    1, David Slater did not frame, setup, outline or in any way contribute to the actual taking of the photos in question, and ADMITTED it publicly (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2011051/Black-macaque-takes-self-portrait-Monkey-borrows-photographers-camera.html). In the countries involved (Indonesia and the UK), to get a copyright the law states you must be human.

    2. TechDirt is REPORTING on a story, so that would/should qualify as Fair Use IF the photos are not determined to be in the Public Domain….because there was no Human taking the pictures.

    Now to add to the fact that copyright protection is getting crazy, in the UK the courts have determined that LINKING to copyrighted material is the same offense as actually posting the copyrighted material http://www.v3.co.uk/v3-uk/news/2097391/newspapers-win-charge-firms-web-links so the attempt above (if in the UK of course ) to only provide links to other sites displaying the pictures would have the same consequences as displaying them directly. Unfortunately I can see the US laws heading that direction as well.

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