Sunday, August 10, 2014

Monkey selfie sparks copyright battle with Wikipedia

Monkey in the wilds of Indonesia snaps a selfie with stolen camera and sets off legal battle between nature photographer and Wikipedia.

Somewhere in the jungles of Indonesia — perhaps fleeing a lion or eating a banana in a tree — is a monkey who takes a mean selfie.

That monkey is now in the middle of a bizarre copyright battle between Wikimedia and nature photographer David Slater of Gloucestershire, England.

The trouble started in 2011 when Slater ventured to an Indonesian jungle to take photos of extremely rare crested black macaque monkeys. A curious female grabbed his camera and snapped hundreds of shots before Slater eventually retrieved it.
Most of the monkey’s efforts weren’t so good but a few are gems and now they’re posted on Wikimedia Commons, where images and videos are offered to the public for free.

One grinning monkey selfie is so good it was nominated for the best public domain photo on Wikimedia Commons.

David Slater, the photographer behind this famous monkey selfie, is threatening to take legal action against Wikimedia after it refused to remove his picture because the monkey took it.

In the monkey’s grinning self-portrait, she is looking directly into the camera lens, presumably smiling at her reflection.

Slater apparently doesn’t find any humour in what he considers Wikimedia, the organization behind Wikipedia, monkeying with his livelihood.

He argues the photos are rightly his. It was his effort and expense that got him to the jungle on the island of Sulawesi with his expensive equipment. He hired the guide who led him deep into the wilds, where the inquisitive monkey could grab his camera and start snapping.

He has also argued that he would hold the copyright to any images taken by an assistant. In effect, the smiling simian was his assistant that day in the jungle, he reasoned.

In an interview, Slater said he has repeatedly asked Wikipedia to take the monkey photos down from Wikimedia Commons.

“They know I claim to hold not just ownership of the image but copyright too,” Slater says.

He says he initially was given the runaround from Wikipedia, but eventually he made contact with a sympathetic editor.

“He didn’t like the fact that this image was being voted for best public domain image at Wikimedia because I claimed it was copyrighted,” Slater says.

For its part, Wikimedia argues that no one owns the photo — not itself, not Slater and not even the shutter-happy monkey.

Even though she takes a mean selfie, monkeys can’t own a copyright, Wikipedia spokeswoman Katherine Mahler said in an email interview.

“It’s clear the monkey was the photographer,” Mahler says.

Mahler pooh-poohs the thought that perhaps it’s time for the monkey to get an agent and/or a lawyer.

“We didn’t think the monkey owned the copyright. Instead, our assessment was that there’s no one who owns the copyright,” Mahler says. “That means that the image falls into the public domain.”

The fact that Slater enabled the monkey to create its artwork isn’t enough, Mahler says.

“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.”

In an attempt to make her case, Mahler uses Slater’s own words against him.

wiki Link :

“The photographer in question did a ton of press around the photo when it first came out, making first-person statements that the monkey did take the photo,” Mahler says.

Slater counters it’s ironic that Wikipedia is relying on press reports in the monkey selfie debate.

“They pride themselves on evidence-based science and often remove evidence based upon newspaper stories,” Slater says. “They have no facts on this case, only what they have read in the press. Hypocritical is too kind a word.”

Mahler declined to speculate on who would own the copyright if someone trained a monkey to take photos.

“We take each of these requests seriously, and consider them all on a case by case (basis),” she said. “I think we’d have to know more specifics about a photo taken by a trained animal.”

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