The great monkey copyright war of 2014
August 8, 2014 | 2:25 pm
By Joanna Cabot
Here’s a fun little story which highlights the absurdity of our current intellectual property laws. Yahoo News had a write-up about a photographer who is embroiled in a legal dispute with Wikipedia over a photograph of his which became viral and ended up on Wikipedia website. As the article explains:
“In 2011, Slater spotted a crested black macaque in Indonesia and set up his camera to click a photo. Suddenly, the monkey snatched the camera and started to take selfies…”
The issue is that current intellectual property law favours the one who snapped the picture, regardless of how they came to do so. So when Ellen Degenres handed Bradley Cooper her camera at the Academy Awards and asked him to take a picture, he owned the shot, even though it was both of her, and using her camera.
Wikipedia’s argument, therefore, is that since the monkey himself took the shot, he owns the copyright, not Mr. Slater. And presumably, if the monkey were able to complain, and were to do so, they could take it down.
All kidding aside, there truly are some serious issues to think about here. As Mike Masnick notes via a Techdirt story the truly ‘pernicious’ aspect of this whole thing is the way we as a society have been trained to believe that someone actually has to have the ‘ownership’ in the first place:
“I think a big part of the problem here is that we’ve been trained incorrectly to believe that everything new must be covered by copyright. This is part of the most pernicious aspects of copyright maximalism today — the idea that everything is covered by copyright. Only a few decades ago, nearly all created works were not covered by copyright and were public domain, free to be shared. It was only with the 1976 Copyright Act that the US switched from an “opt-in” policy to a “nearly everything is covered” policy, leading many people to (wrongly) believe that with any photo someone must hold the copyright.”
The truth is, the monkey doesn’t own the picture. Slater doesn’t own it either. Nor does Wikipedia. Nobody owns it. Nobody needs to own it. It’s just out there, being unowned, and that’s okay. Isn’t it?
Editor’s Note: While I desperately wanted to use the image of the monkey in question, the photographer has been sending take down notices to sites which use it. Techdirt still has the picture on their site, assuming you haven’t already seen it on Twitter, Facebook, etc.