It all started when nature photographer David Slater went to Indonesia to photograph a group of macaques. After the monkeys got used to his presence some bolder ones decided to grab his camera. Slater decided to set up the camera so that it would be prepared to get a good facial close up if another monkey grabbed his camera and eventually one did.
He enjoyed watching the macaque play with its new toy and while most of the pictures it took weren't very good, one where the monkey turned the camera on itself turned out fantastic. It was so great that it caught the eye of one Wikipedia volunteer editor who decided to upload it to the online encyclopedia. This added it to its Wikimedia Commons database of images to share freely.
The editor reasoned that because the monkey took the picture and only humans can own copyright the picture is therefore in the public domain (images that are free for anyone to use.) But David Slater disagreed. He argued that the monkey selfie never would have happened if he hadn't brought his equipment there, got the monkeys acclimated to him, noticed what they were doing, and set up the right lens, etc to get a good shot.
Slater asked Wikipedia to remove the image. After discussing the issue, the editors denied his claim. It is still available on wikimedia commons, credited to the unnamed macaque and listed as being in the public domain. The latest compendium of practices issued by the US Copyright Office says that it will not register works made by non-human animals and even specifically lists "a photograph taken by a monkey" in its examples.
What do you think? Should Slater own the copyright to the image because he arranged for the shot to be taken? Should pictures taken by monkeys belong to everyone? What might this mean for professional photographers and their incentive to produced shots like these? What might it mean for amateurs looking for media to freely remix? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Gibbs, Samuel. "Monkey Business: Macaque Selfie Can't Be Copyright, Say US and UK." The Guardian. The Guardian, 22 Aug. 2014. Web. 9 Sept. 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/aug/22/monkey-business-macaque-selfie-cant-be-copyrighted-say-us-and-uk
Stewart, Louise. "Wikimedia Says When a Monkey Takes a Selfie, No One Owns It." Newsweek. Newsweek, 28 Aug. 2014. Web. 9 Sept. 2014. http://www.newsweek.com/lawyers-dispute-wikimedias-claims-about-monkey-selfie-copyright-265961