The Monkey’s Selfie

28th August 2014

It is difficult to perceive simply how a macaque monkey taking a photograph would cause mass worldwide debate. Yet, as the age of modernised technology and social network grows, the ‘selfie’ taken on the camera of British photographer David Slater has been publicised to millions all over the world, subsequently raising questions on whether the copyright in the image is eligible to be owned by Slater, or yes, even the monkey.

Copyright law is limited to the ‘original intellectual conceptions of the author.’ Because Slater did not take the photo, would it be reasonable to claim that he created it? His counter-argument being that before the monkey took the photo, he set up many different settings on the camera and positioned it on a tripod. But is this enough to claim it was by his own ‘intellectual conception’ that the photo came into existence? Unfortunately for him, the US Copyright Office did not think it was, therefore as he did not take the photo, he cannot claim the rights to it. Unsurprisingly Slater was upset by the decision, claiming he had lost over £10,000.

Surely this leaves the rights to the monkey. Now, assuming she could make a case to claim the copyrights for herself it would be quickly shot down by a further statement made by the US Copyright Office which states it ‘will not register works produced by nature, animals or plants’, continuing specifically to illustrate the point by including ‘a photograph taken by an monkey.’ And just to be extra precise, they also added in ‘a mural painted by an elephant’. It’s as if they read my mind.

Please contact Rebecca Anforth if you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article. The information provided in this article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice and cannot be relied upon as such. Any law quoted in this article is correct as at 28 August 2014. Appropriate legal advice should be sought for specific circumstances before any action is taken. Copyright © Murrell Associates Limited, August 2014.