August 9, 2014

Why the monkey selfie is in the public domain.

David J. Slater, the wildlife photographer, makes his best argument this way:
He claims that buying the cameras, spending thousands of pounds to transport himself to Indonesia, and performing the act of neglect that allowed the monkeys to steal his cameras entitles him to full authorship of the image, regardless of who pushed the button. “In law, if I have an assistant then I still own the copyright,” he told the “Today” show. “I believe there’s a case to be had that the monkey was my assistant.”
But his argument contains his admission of the flaw that wrecks it:
[I]f one is to believe his own telling of the monkey stealing his camera, Slater not only didn’t ask the monkeys to take the selfies but eventually took the camera away. Without intent (... Slater did not specifically set up an environment to take a photo), clear direction (monkeys do not listen to anyone), or an employer-employee agreement (no monkeys signed anything), Slater’s claims that the monkeys were acting on his behalf are absurd. If any reasonable person left her laptop in a cafĂ©, and a poet picked it up, opened up a word-processing program, and typed out this generation’s Dream Songs, could she reasonably ask for much more than her laptop back?
Give it up, Slater, and embrace the publicity you're getting at this, your moment of greatest fame. Move on, photograph something else, and let us like you at this point — perhaps the only point — when we know you. Surrender gracefully to the Mona Lisa of Macaques and and let everyone... everyone...


David Slater / Wikimedia Commons

...  smile.

17 comments:

The Crack Emcee said...

Another laugh before 8AM - great.

Big Mike said...

He needs to spend the rest of his life trying to improve upon this shot. Best guess is that he'll fail.

Michael said...

But there's no publicity if he "give(s) it up." He needs to milk it for a while, and then let it go.

cubanbob said...

The best shot of his career is the one he didn't take.

gspencer said...

If one monkey from the proverbial infinite number of monkeys meme did type out the play of Hamlet, would Shakespeare have a case?

Unknown said...

"embrace the publicity you're getting at this" -- a wildlife photographer whose biggest claim to fame is that he let a monkey take a picture of itself is probably to going to be approached with a big money grant from National Geographic.

David said...

I downloaded this as soon as it came out. It's amazing.

With a few lies about how he intended to leave the camera for the monkey to mess with, he might have gotten his copyright, so good on him for honesty.

traditionalguy said...

I think knew that guy in High School. He was our nose guard and our catcher.

Fernandinande said...

So I guess "trail camera" pictures also can't be copyrighted since the animals take their own pictures by breaking a light beam (or whatever) rather than unwittingly pressing a button.

cgw276 said...

A hypo:

The photographer drops the camera. As it falls, the shutter button is depressed. The camera takes a photo that becomes world famous.

I'm not a copyright attorney, but it seems to me that in this case, the photographer would have a valid copyright. I don't see how the monkey situation is any different. In both cases, the photographer took an action that directly led to the photograph with no intervening human action. In my hypo, the photographer dropped the camera. In the monkey case, the photographer left the camera lying around.

dbp said...

I did not see anything in the article about chain of custody. Did the owner of the camera recover it, or did someone else?

If the owner recovered it, then how would it be different from a sailor finding a lump of ambergris floating out in the ocean? It should be his property to do with as he chooses. If he posted it to a place that does not respect his property right in the picture then I would say he chose poorly when he posted it there.

Steven H. Noble said...

But by "his own telling" he did create the scenario and there was no "neglect": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQBefFWUFOo. If there's a debate of whether this was staged or a result neglect what's the assumption of the law if there is no proof?

Ann Althouse said...

"If the owner recovered it, then how would it be different from a sailor finding a lump of ambergris floating out in the ocean? It should be his property to do with as he chooses. If he posted it to a place that does not respect his property right in the picture then I would say he chose poorly when he posted it there."

That ambergris is chattel, not intellectual property. The latter right relates to whether he can control the making of copies.

He could have kept what he had to himself, like the owner of an original manuscript.

Brother J said...

Inspector Jacques Clouseau had to sort out a similar issue.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnlIWpZSPXU

Conserve Liberty said...

Let the monkey own the image file exactly as it came out of the camera (it was underexposed, poorly composed and misaligned).

If the photographer post-processed the image file in any way - cropped, straightened, sharpened, raised highlights or shadows - to make the disputed image more presentable and dramatic (hint: he did) then he owns the copyright to the altered image file.

dbp said...

Thanks Althouse!

Yes, it should have been obvious to me from the name: Copyright means a monopoly on the right to make copies.

rhhardin said...

Proudest monkey.