As we've been discussing with the Vivian Maier situation, copyright can be a very strange thing. Remember this particularly affable crested black macaque? He commandeered wildlife photographer David Slater's camera in the wilds of Indonesia and managed to take dozens of pictures with it, including this magnificent and much-reproduced self-portrait.
So guess what? You'd think the picture belongs to David Slater...it was his camera, he set up the situation, he paid the fare to Indonesia, he was the one who got lucky. But as the Wikimedia Foundation (which deals with copyright all the time, and knows, shall we say, all about that particular monkey business) has now asserted, David Slater does not own this picture.
As Jordan Weissman details on Slate, it turns out that copyright law explicitly requires human authorship. Even then it's not that simple, but most experts are in agreement: this picture is in the public domain, and David Slater doesn't own the copyright.
As the article points out, it's going to make a great final exam question for copyright classes. As David Slater points out, it's a pretty major bummer for him.
I'd like to propose that this picture be known forever after as "Slater's Macaque." That way David at least gets a little credit and honor for it, since apparently he's not going to be able to reap much in the way of profit. (Although check out his website—you can buy a print!)
I seem to remember a situation where an art photographer went to a public swimming pool and passed out waterproof cameras to the kids to take pictures of each other with in the pool. The resulting pictures, edited and printed, were accepted as the photographer's work. I wonder if that would pass the test today? It seems to mimic parallel pretty closely the situation with Slater's Macaque.
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Featured Comments from:
Glenn Allenspach: "The moral of the story? Never admit that the monkey pushed the shutter button!"
russell: "If Slater had only thought to take a picture of the picture à la Richard Prince...."
Mike replies: Now that's brilliant.