If an animal, in this case a monkey, takes a photo following a painstakingly crafted set-up…..who owns the copyright?

  1. The Monkey
  2. The Photographer
  3. No one

Let’s discuss. Pictures have the ability to tell a story, amaze and astonish people. However the speed with which they can now travel to almost every corner of the globe within a very short space of time should be a salutary warning to all professional photographers.

The monkey selfie appeared somewhere online and rapidly did a freebie tour of the globe. This has in effect severely limited this Photographers ability to profit from what was clearly a stunning picture.

I am of course talking about the Monkey Selfie, which, when it first emerged, appeared all over the place without the photographer’s permission.  Because of this and now the continued appearance on Wikipedia, the photographer estimates he has lost in the region of £10,000.

The photo was easily downloadable and usable with no clear copyright protection and this meant few people or organisations respected the Photographers rights. Shutting the door after the monkey has bolted it seems has proved impossible.

Arguments for and against:

There have been two sides to this argument.

One argument in favour of Wikipedia and other publishers of this picture is that no one owned the copyright because the picture was taken by a monkey. A monkey is not a natural person in the eyes of the law. It is an animal that does not possess the intellect to intentionally take a photo and therefore is incapable of owning its copyright.

The other argument is that of the photographer. The photographer spent a lot of time and effort engineering the shot including painstakingly socialising with the monkey group. He intentionally left his camera in situ, switched on and set up to take the picture.

Possible solutions;

Before releasing the picture the photographer should have carefully considered his business and legal position. For example he could have registered the pictures Copyright, formally establishing his ownership, rather than simply relying on implied Copyright laws that are not terribly well observed or policed, either in the UK and elsewhere in the World.

If you create a picture that excites you as a Photographer then it is likely to have a commercial value that needs to be protected……before publication… anyone, even friends and relatives. You must keep it out of the public domain until ready.

Once protected, you will be in a position to exploit the commercial value of the picture. Stephen Attree of Myers Lister Price comments:  “Registering the image ownership and seeking distribution and publishing rights and opportunities through the Copyright Licensing Agency would be one way” comments Stephen. “If you’re trying to DIY and keep fees down then you’d have to embed the image with a copyright notice (including your contact details) to claim the copyright before distribution.”

Unfortunately, because abuse of Copyright is so endemic in this internet age it is unfortunately highly unlikely you will be insured for legal costs to pursue Copyright claims. You may however be able to get legal Helpline advice and if a member of a Photography organisation such as the Guild of Photographers  you will get some invaluable and friendly expertise to guide you along the way.

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