The Human Importance of the Monkey Selfie

“They were quite mischievous jumping all over my equipment, and it looked like they already were posing for the camera when one hit the button"

Monkey Selfie


Last week’s slow summer news was filled with monkeys and robots, breaking the usual pattern of having sharks grab the headlines each August. The two stories in combination actually raise an interesting and potentially important matter regarding technology development and copyright law.

The monkey selfie already has achieved viral status and incredible online buzz. It is at the center of a legal controversy between British nature photographer David Slater and the Wikimedia Foundation, the parent not-for-profit organization of Wikipedia.

 While on assignment in Indonesia a few years back, Slater wound up having his shoot hijacked by the monkeys he was photographing. “They were quite mischievous jumping all over my equipment, and it looked like they already were posing for the camera when one hit the button,” he recalls. The end result was an unusually expressive selfie that now is an iconic image.

Wikipedia posted this photo for public domain availability, arguing that since the monkey, not Slater, took the picture, it is outside the scope of copyright protection. Hence, it refused to remove the picture after Slater made a request based on his assertion that the photograph was a copyrighted image that he owned.

Slater now is exploring litigation options, particularly since the value of the image has increased exponentially in a matter of days since millions around the world are viewing and forwarding it online. If it remains in the public domain based upon Wikimedia’s argument that Slater actually did not create the picture, he will not be able to generate what could be substantial licensing revenue.



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