IP enthusiasts across the world are having an absolute field day with the recent Wikipedia monkey copyright controversy! For those not in the know yet, even as some humans are having trouble taking pictures of themselves, or “selfies” as they are now known [Exhibit A: Usain Bolt fan’s selfie fails, as camera faces wrong way], back in 2011, a rather handsome black macaca nigra monkey based in Indonesia swiped a traveling British photographer’s camera and then proceeded to snap a whole set of pictures including the selfie above. The controversy now is that Wikipedia, which has put up the above picture in their Wikipedia commons, has refused to comply with a takedown notice sent by David Slater, the British photographer, stating that they disagreed with his claim to having a copyright over the photograph.
While the legal technicalities here are bound to be fascinating and I’d love to be in a court to hear them, that’s a hotbed of issues that I won’t try to untangle for now. But for our readers who’d like to think through them, here are some of the issues they can ponder over:
Should a monkey be able to claim authorship? Is there even a purpose in giving animals IP rights? Will this incentivize them to create more?
Has the photographer done anything that makes him deserve the copyright title – in the form of setting up the equipment making it possible for the monkey to take the selfies?
An Indonesian monkey, a British photographer and (presumably) American servers – which jurisdiction should be considered anyway?
Can a monkey be termed a “person”, as copyright legislations tend to require for authorship? (Let’s not forget that in India at least, the concept of a non corporate, non-human person with rights certainly does exist!).
And most importantly, does the existence of this photo necessitate an owner at all? Could it not simply be in the public domain?
[Edit: For the record though, I have to admit that I’d love for a court to grant the monkey the copyright, and then see some self proclaimed monkey-whisperer take everyone else to court for infringement!]