It’s official: We are now on Monkey Selfie Lawsuit Watch!!
At issue is the photo of the primate above. (What a punim!) The endangered crested black macaque took the photo in the jungles of Indonesia in 2011 after stealing the camera belonging to British wildlife photographer David J. Slater.
The photo was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons sometime after it was taken; in early 2012. Slater asked Wikimedia to take it down because, he alleged, he owned the rights to the photo.
The photo was soon uploaded again to Wikimedia Commons, and Slater made another request to take it down in early 2013. This time, however, users said the photo would remain, according to a discussion on Wikimedia Commons as to whether the photo should be deleted.
“I uploaded it to Commons on the basis that the image was not created by a human and that therefore nobody holds copyright in it,” one user wrote.
Keep it “unless and until the monkey or its duly appointed legal representative come forth with a claim of copyright,” another user wrote.
Another request Slater made to delete the photo came earlier this year, leading Wikimedia Commons to have users decide if the photo should stay in the public domain. The results were revealed last week, and the photo stayed put by a vote of 37-11.
“This is long past a useful discussion,” a Wikimedia administrator wrote in closing the debate. “Let’s [let] the real lawyers decide.”
Ah, yes, the lawyers. Slater told The Telegraph he was planning to take legal action against the image-sharing site. He also told Trademarks & Brands Online that Wikimedia is acting “disgracefully” and threatens his livelihood.
The odds of a judge or jury relying on a vote of social media users as opposed to copyright law is probably pretty slim. But federal copyright law is pretty clear that, as one lawyer wrote, “because the monkey cannot create a copyrightable work, that work can never be copyrightable.” (Bet he never thought he’d right that sentence when he was in law school.)
Regardless of all the legal theories, I’m looking forward to this case going to court if only for the evidence alone — Slater has said the monkeys took hundreds of selfies with his camera.