Monkey selfie copyright dispute

Photographs by Celebes crested macaques / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Between 2011 and 2018, a series of disputes took place about the copyright status of selfies taken by Celebes crested macaques using equipment belonging to the British nature photographer David Slater. The disputes involve Wikimedia Commons and the blog Techdirt, which have hosted the images following their publication in newspapers in July 2011 over Slater's objections that he holds the copyright, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who have argued that the macaque should be assigned the copyright.

One of the monkey selfies at issue in the dispute

Slater has argued that he has a valid copyright claim, as he engineered the situation that resulted in the pictures by travelling to Indonesia, befriending a group of wild macaques, and setting up his camera equipment in such a way that a "selfie" picture might come about. The Wikimedia Foundation's 2014 refusal to remove the pictures from its Wikimedia Commons image library was based on the understanding that copyright is held by the creator, that a non-human creator (not being a legal person) cannot hold copyright, and that the images are thus in the public domain.

Slater stated in August 2014 that, as a result of the pictures being available on Wikipedia, he had lost at least £10,000 (equivalent to about £12,000 in 2021) in income and his business as a wildlife photographer was being harmed.[1] In December 2014, the United States Copyright Office stated that works created by a non-human, such as a photograph taken by a monkey, are not copyrightable. A number of legal experts in the US and UK have argued that Slater's role in the photographic process may have been sufficient to establish a valid copyright claim, though this decision would have to be made by a court.[2][3][4]

In a separate dispute, PETA tried to use the monkey selfies to establish a legal precedent that animals should be declared copyright holders. Slater had published a book containing the photographs through self-publishing company Blurb, Inc. In September 2015, PETA filed a lawsuit against Slater and Blurb, requesting that the monkey be assigned the copyright and that PETA be appointed to administer proceeds from the photos for the endangered species' benefit.[5] In dismissing PETA's case, the court ruled that a monkey cannot own copyright under US law.[6] PETA appealed, and in September 2017, both PETA and the photographer agreed to a settlement in which Slater would donate a portion of future revenues on the photographs to wildlife organizations. However, the court of appeals declined to dismiss the appeal and declined to vacate the lower court judgment.[7] In April 2018, the appeals court affirmed that animals cannot legally hold copyrights and expressed concern that PETA's motivations had been to promote their own interests rather than to protect the legal rights of animals.