Do you remember the monkey selfie that went viral, and the ridiculous story that the monkey should hold the copyright to the photo? British nature photographer David Slater, who photographed the black macaque in 2011, ended up being broke. He considers switching his career, and he might just give it all up when it comes to the “monkey selfie” case.
After years of court debating whether an animal can be a copyright holder, the photographer’s had enough. He says he’s on the verge of giving up. He is trying to become a tennis coach, and even considers dog walking so he can cover the income tax.
Slater was taking photos of endangered crested black macaques in Sulawesi, Indonesia in 2011. At one point, one of them hijacked his camera and snapped a ton of selfies. Some of the photos soon went viral, and later found themselves on Wikimedia Commons under public domain. When Slater asked Wikimedia to take the photos down – they refused. They claimed the monkey pressed the shutter and thus owns the copyright.
Although the monkey did press the shutter, it took photographer a lot of patience and knowledge to get the monkeys relax and play with the camera. He tells The Guardian that a photo like this is something every photographer dreams of. Unfortunately, it’s availability under public domain pushed the photographer back significantly: “If everybody gave me a pound for every time they used [the photograph], I’d probably have £40m in my pocket.” He says he was supposed to be comfortable from the proceeds of these photos by now, but sadly – he’s not.
As if the struggle with Wikimedia wasn’t enough, in 2015 PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) sued Slater as well. They also claimed that the monkey named Naruto should own the copyright to his selfie. However, the Copyright Office released a document that establishes new policies and reaffirms existing ones. It clearly states that “The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants.” Later on, the court ruled that the monkey can’t own a copyright on selfies, and one would say this should have ended here. But no, it wasn’t over, because PETA appealed the decision and the case went on.
Judge Carlos Bea raised an important question at one point – how copyright passes to an author’s heirs. “In the world of Naruto, is there legitimacy and illegitimacy? Are Naruto’s offspring ‘children’, as defined by the statute?” This got me wonder, would a monkey be hurt in any way if it didn’t own the copyright or have its offspring inherit it? I doubt it. On the other hand, Slater is concerned for the welfare of his own child: “I can’t afford to own a car. There’s no camera equipment for her to inherit if I die tomorrow. She should inherit this [copyright], but it’s worthless.”
It makes me sad to hear that a talented and devoted photographer is making ends meet just because of some ridiculous lawsuits. I do love animals and believe we should respect their rights and take care of them, but I don’t think the copyright over photos should be one of their rights. It’s just ridiculous. It doesn’t help the animals in any way, while it does a big harm to the photographer. After all, if he were a copyright holder, he could invest his earnings from the photo to help animals. This way, it’s a lose-lose situation for both the photographer and the macaque.
[via The Guardian]