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This monkey took a selfie. Who owns the copyright?

Photographer David Slater is furious at the Wikimedia Foundation, publisher of Wikipedia, for publishing this photograph on its website without permission:


(Photo by the monkey, using David Slater's camera)

Slater had traveled to Indonesia to do a wildlife shoot. While he was there, he left one of his cameras unattended, and a crested black macaque monkey began playing with it. She took dozens of photos, most of which were blurry shots of the ground or the sky. But the photos included this crystal-clear selfie.

Slater says he owns the copyright to the photograph and asked Wikimedia to take it down. In its first-ever transparency report, the Wikimedia Foundation says it refused because it doesn't believe Slater owns the copyright.

Under copyright law, ownership of a photo generally rests with the person who clicked the shutter on the camera. Ordinarily, this rule protects photographers against copyright claims from others who might say they played a creative role in the production of a photograph. But here, it works against Slater, who didn't push the button on the camera or play a role in deciding where to point it.

Slater says it's irrelevant who pushed the button — he transported the equipment to Indonesia in order to capture wildlife photographs, at a cost of thousands of dollars, and so he's the creative force behind the photograph. But the Wikimedia Foundation evidently believes that because no human being actually took the photo, it's not copyrighted at all. And therefore anyone is free to use it.

The only way we'll know for sure who's right is if Slater sues Wikimedia, something he says he's thinking about doing.

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