Wikimedia, the US-based organisation behind Wikipedia, refused to delete one of a photograph’s images which is used online without his permission, insisting that a monkey pressed the shutter button and now it’s the owner of the picture.
British nature photographer David Slater was in Indonesia three years ago in search of perfect images of a crested black macaque when one of the animals came up to investigate his equipment, hijacked a camera and took hundreds of selfies.
Many of taken photos were of a bad quality and some were pointed at the jungle floor, but there’s also a handful of fantastic images – including a selfie taken by a grinning female macaque which hit the Internet and immediately made the photographer a famous person.
“They were quite mischievous jumping all over my equipment, and it looked like they were already posing for the camera when one hit the button,” he said at the time. “The sound got his attention and he kept pressing it. At first it scared the rest of them away but they soon came back – it was amazing to watch.”
“He must have taken hundreds of pictures by the time I got my camera back, but not very many were in focus. He obviously hadn’t worked that out yet,” the photographer added.
However, after the photos appeared in several Internet resources, newspapers, magazines and television shows around the world, Slater faced a legal and tough battle with Wikimedia after the organisation added the image to its collection of royalty-free images online.
The Wikimedia Commons is a collection of 22,302,592 free images and videos, and editors have included Mr Slater’s image among its database.
“The Gloucestershire-based photographer now claims that the decision is jeopardising his income as anyone can take the image and publish it for free, without having to pay him a royalty,” The Telegraph reports.
“He complained to Wikimedia that he owned the copyright of the image, but a recent transparency report from the group, which details all the removal requests it has received, reveals that editors decided that Mr Slater has no claim on the image as the monkey itself took the picture.”
Mr Slater now faces an estimated £10,000 legal bill to take the matter to court.
“If the monkey took it, it owns copyright, not me, that’s their basic argument. What they don’t realise is that it needs a court to decide that,” he said. The image has been removed in the past when he complained, but different editors regularly upload it once again.
“Some of their editors think it should be put back up. I’ve told them it’s not public domain, they’ve got no right to say that its public domain. A monkey pressed the button, but I did all the setting up.”
The author of the photo went on, adding that the photography trip was too expensive and that he has not made much money from the image despite its enormous popularity.
“That trip cost me about £2,000 for that monkey shot. Not to mention the £5,000 of equipment I carried, the insurance, the computer stuff I used to process the images. Photography is an expensive profession that’s being encroached upon. They’re taking our livelihoods away,” he said. “For every 10,000 images I take, one makes money that keeps me going. And that was one of those images. It was like a year of work, really.”
In its report Wikimedia said that it “does not agree” that the photographer owns the copyright, but also that US law means that “non-human authors” do not have the right to automatic copyright of any photographs that they take.
“To claim copyright, the photographer would have had to make substantial contributions to the final image, and even then, they’d only have copyright for those alterations, not the underlying image. This means that there was no one on whom to bestow copyright, so the image falls into the public domain,” it said.