Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

Monkey Self-Portrait Continues To Raise Issues Of Copyright Control

You will no doubt remember this image, it was all over the web and elsewhere. A self portrait taken by a macaque monkey. The photographer had his camera used by the monkey and this memorable image emerged. Lots of fun. Now there is a question over copyright. This article sums up some of the issues.

Monkey takes photos on camera

Usually, the issue of who owns a photograph is fairly straightforward. Barring contracts or agreements, the person who pressed the shutter gets it. But what happens if it’s not a person who presses the shutter? That’s a question that’s still proving incredibly difficult for photographer David Slater, ever since a monkey took his camera and grabbed a self-portrait back in 2011.

In the US copyright is defined by something created by a human, not a machine or an animal, so  fees should be paid to David.

Now I think David Slater should own the copyright, if for no other reason than he didn’t panic and scream when the macaque grabbed his camera. What he does with the money is up to him but I am of the opinion it should go to the World Wildlife Fund. If anyone is going to benefit clearly it should be David, I mean how are you going to identify the particular macaque, I am aware we have his picture but is that enough. And in these days of internet banking where should the proceeds of the macaque’s copyright be sent. Maybe he wants to be paid in bitcoins or more likely anything from soil and ferns to crabs and shellfish, I guess it depends what is on sale at the time.

Another thought, photographers are often referred to as ‘monkeys’ especially of the genus press or paparazzi, and looking at images on the monitor on the back of the camera as ‘chimping’. Does this complicate the copyright laws?

There is an update on this copyright issue as explained in Intellectual Property Watch is is not a long article and is informative however if you can’t be bothered to read it here is the conclusion


So, going back to our talented amateur monkey photographer, it is reasonably clear she can’t create a copyrighted work, and also unlikely that Slater would be considered the copyright owner in any event. But what about rights of publicity or image rights? Or database rights attaching to the suite of photos? Or data protection and privacy rights? Could these legal theories prove more fruitful for Slater and his “assistant”?

Or perhaps the fact that our simian pals are not able to be copyright authors should be viewed as a blessing, rather than a curse. After all, if a monkey can’t create a copyright, presumably a monkey can’t infringe one either . . .



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