The Legal Issues Behind The ‘Monkey Selfie’

A legal dispute involving the famous ‘monkey selfie’ sparked a significant amount of media coverage last year. The ‘selfie row’ started off as a generic dispute regarding the ownership of a photograph and has since snowballed into a giant legal debate encompassing the murky and obscure areas of copyright law.

For those who are unaware, the dispute arose when David Slater, a wildlife photographer, had his camera stolen briefly by a group of monkeys, resulting in a number of a photos being taken; including the aforementioned ‘monkey selfie’. The image soon gathered internet fame, guaranteeing financial success for Mr Slater. That is, until Wikipedia placed the picture in its catalogue of free images, claiming that as the image was taken by a monkey, copyright does not vest in anyone and the image belongs in the public domain. Mr Slater has since claimed that he has suffered estimated losses of around £10,000 in income and is threatening legal action.

The legal debate behind who holds ownership is a troubling one and highlights one of the grey areas of copyright law. In the UK, under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, copyright can be claimed if the work is the author’s intellectual creation. From Wikipedia’s viewpoint, it was not a human being that pressed the shutter on the camera to capture the image, and therefore no copyright can exist in the photograph.

On the other hand however, Mr Slater had gone to the time and effort to travel to Indonesia with the sole purpose of taking interesting and potentially valuable images. Indeed, had Mr Slater not been in Indonesia at the time, the monkey selfie would never have been taken. In addition, it was Mr Slater who owned and provided the camera equipment necessary to take the photograph and had adjusted the camera’s settings accordingly.

Should the dispute ever reach the courts, regard will be had to all the circumstantial evidence surrounding the issue, including a thorough assessment of the input Mr Slater had in the photograph’s creation.

For more information on copyright law and intellectual property, feel free to give us a call on 01536 276300. At Seatons, our team of highly trained legal professionals have a wealth of experience in copyright disputes and provide clear, easy to understand legal advice at low sensible fees.