Columns Monkey Selfie in Wikipedia Copyright Dispute

  1. Can a monkey own a copyright interest in the pictures they may take? Wikipedia has refused a request to remove from its website a photograph taken by a macaque, which used British photographer David Slater’s equipment. Despite repeated takedown notices by Slater and the Caters News Agency, Wikipedia insists that the world famous selfie taken by a monkey in Indonesia is in the public domain.

    Monkey Borrows Photographer's Camera

    British nature photographer David Slater spent a few thousand British Pounds to travel to Indonesia for a specific purpose - to capture images of the crested black macaque. One of the monkeys in the jungle "borrowed" his photographic equipment and snapped hundreds of useless photos. Eventually Mr. Slater was able to retrieve his camera from the curious macaque. And much to Slater's surprise, there were a few golden nuggets in the group, which included a few "selfies" of the monkey peering directly into the lens.

    The story and photo was published and quickly "went viral." Slater said that he received numerous emails from people who enjoyed this highly unique, candid and heart warming photo immensely. Not surprisingly, the photo became a significant source of income for Slater to continue his work. The "nature" of nature photography is that, out of thousands of pictures taken, there may be a literal handful that actually generate revenue to compensate the photographer.

    Wikipedia Refuses to Remove the Monkey Selfie

    The photo of the macaque taken by the animal was uploaded to Wikipedia. Despite requests by the photographer and news agency to remove it, the Wikimedia Foundation, who runs the Wikipedia website, has refused. It is their position that an animal has no intellectual property right in a photograph and cannot own a copyright. And since the monkey actually snapped the picture, Wikipedia's position is that the rights to the photograph should belong to the public domain as opposed to the photographer.

    The conversation discussing whether the photo should be removed, as well as ownership of legal rights, is interesting and amusing. Source: Wikipedia:Featured picture candidates/Macaca nigra self-portrait:

    High technical quality, public domain (because a monkey cannot hold a copyright), verifiable (if the Daily Mail counts), and a very unique and interesting image: a self-portrait by a macaque, a type of old-world monkey, who picked up a photographer's camera. Also kinda cute.

    Portions of further discussion regarding the same photo with a lower resolution entitled "Macaca nigra self-portrait" are also notable. Some apparently believe that the monkey has talent - and perhaps a school for gifted animal photographers may be in the works.

    Support: It's so cute and kind image about monkey. :)

    Comment: Are we sure about the copyright status? Last I heard the photographer was still arguing about it.

    Does the law explicitly say person?

    Apparently so.​
    Oppose: Copyright issue aside, the image is much too small. Let it be noted that "A Monkey" is a very nice change to see in the creator field, and I would like to see more artworks by animals.

    Support: Looks like a valuable image to me.

    Animals Go to Court.... and Win

    For the moment, the copyright issue remains unsettled. However there are animal rights groups fighting for the legal rights of other living beings. Attorney Steven Wise along with the Nonhuman Rights Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tommy the chimpanzee, who was discovered being held "in a small, dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed." The New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department granted a preliminary injunction against Tommy's owner, who wanted to remove the former circus chimp from New York state and to put him in a place that sported even more deficient living conditions.

    Considering there are a growing number monkeys using the iPhone, our website will also considering a chimp version of our law dictionary & guide app.
    Legal Practice:
    IP - Copyright Infringement
    • US Federal

    Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler
    Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


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