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Copyright row over monkey’s selfie

Written by Rehana Ali on 08 August 2014

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David Slater, a wildlife photographer initiated legal proceedings against Wikimedia after he discovered the unauthorised use of an image he owns, the image apparently went viral after it was uploaded online.

The photographer has demanded that Wikimedia delete the image however they refused to do so claiming that Slater ‘did not own the picture as he did not take the photo’!

Slater explained that he had spent 3 days in Indonesia shadowing monkeys in 2011 and had suffered a loss in the region o £10,000 from the unlawful use of the image. Slater further explained whilst shadowing the monkeys:

“I became accepted as part of the troop”, “I set the camera up on a tripod, framed (the shot) and got the exposure right... and all you’ve got to do is give the monkey the button to press and lo and behold you’ve got the picture”

Slater has claimed that he requested that Wikimedia either deleted or paid for the use of the image, neither happened.

What’s the position according to UK LEGISLATION?

Copyright is governed by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 that states some of the following regarding ownership of a work attracting copyright protection.

  • The general rule is The author of a work is the first owner of any copyright in it”.
  • Author means: the person who created the work.
  • There could even be Joint Authorship in a work, joint authorship means a work produced by the collaboration of two or more authors in which the contribution of each author is not distinct from that of the other author or authors.
  • Or possibly even a situation where work is commissioned, i.e. A commissions B to create an image; B will own the copyright unless there is an agreement to the contrary.

It seems Wikimedia are relying on the rule that the author of a work is the owner of the work, however it may be arguable that the work has joint authorship between the photographer and the monkey, as the photographer set up the camera and the monkey pressed the button?, Or maybe the photographer may be able to prove that he had commissioned the monkey to create the work (but he will have to produce the agreement signed by the monkey assigning the copyright to him!).

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