It has been two years since British nature photographer David Slater first asked Wikimedia Commons to remove several photos of a crested black macaque from its online collection of public domain images (the images can be viewed here). Slater claimed to own the copyright in the photos, some of which show the monkey staring directly into the camera and grinning in a very human way.
Wikimedia took the position that Slater did not own the copyright to the photos because they were “selfies” taken by the monkey itself when Slater momentarily left the photo shoot site, and his camera, unattended. And since monkeys can’t own copyrights, Wikimedia maintained that it was free to keep the photos on its website.
The photos continue to appear on the Wikimedia website to date, and they likely won’t be going anywhere soon. On August 19, 2014 the U.S. Copyright Office released its “Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices” that makes it clear that only works created by a human being are protected by copyright. It also goes so far as to provide examples of the types of works that would not be subject to copyright protection—including “a photograph taken by a monkey.”
The public draft is not final, so there may still be arguments to be made by Slater, who is reportedly seeking legal counsel to dispute ownership of the photos and his right to compensation for Wikimedia’s unauthorized publication of the photos. Until then, it seems that the U.S. Copyright Office is working to put an end to this monkey business.
The take-away? Next time your pug wants to take a selfie, push the button for him.