Monkey Selfie's Copyright Battle

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Thursday, August 7th, 2014, 5:02am
Categories: Mouth Diarrhea

Monkey Selfie

So there's this really really cute photo of a monkey taking a selfie that's been going around. Apparently some sort of wildlife photographer had a camera setup, and a monkey came by and stole the camera. Then the monkey took hundreds of photos while he was messing with the thing, and accidentally took a superb selfie.

The photographer claims he owns copyright to the photo, and Wikimedia claims the photo is in the public domain, because well, a monkey took it. I won't post the photo here because I agree with the photographer (as I'll soon explain), but if you search for "Monkey Selfie" you'll probably find it.

So ... I wanted to weigh in on the whole copyright situation. I'm no lawyer, but I do have some experience in copyright as a musician.

Mike Peralta Selfie
-YO, are we gonna fuck or what?
Image By: Mike Peralta | Source

I Call Bullshit

I think I call bullshit on Wikimedia. Copyright (at least for music) happens once you turn your work into a fixed format (ie: recording it, writing it down, something other than in your head, etc). As far as I understand, it doesn't matter where your inspiration came from, and as long as you're the first person to affix the composition you're hearing in your head from somewhere, you can create a copyright for it.

In other words, you should technically be able to copyright a symphony you heard inside the sounds of freeway traffic or birds humping, as long as you eventually created it in a fixed format.

I do, however, believe that since a monkey doesn't have personhood status or whatever, he would not be able to legally create a copyright. Thus, every picture this monkey took should have no copyright status, at least at the moment it was taken.

But here's where I start to disagree with Wikimedia: I also don't believe that a monkey taking a picture automatically puts that picture into the public domain. I think they're mixing up two different concepts:

  • Copyright Status: Set; Public Domain
  • Copyright Status: Not yet set

Notice I'm making a distinction between a photo with a copyright status of "Public Domain", and one that has no status yet determined. It's like how some atheists believe they can prove there isn't a god, but agnostic atheists will simply say "I have no knowledge of whether or not there's a god".

SO then ... the monkey leaves... you have a camera on the ground next to some bananas and fecal matter... some photos sitting in the camera's memory card. Then the photographer comes back along and grabs the camera. At that point, I believe he'd be claiming a previously unclaimed copyright. He's the first human to have possession of those photos. He didn't come along after someone else took pictures and placed them in the public domain, and try to claim them. He didn't find incredibly old photos that had no obvious creator or were too old to be protected under copyright any longer.

He simply picked up his own camera and took possession of photos that had no copyright status the moment before.

You could even take it one step further and say that once he copied the photos from his camera's memory card to his computer, he was making a fixed copy of those photos too (which matches what I was saying about music earlier ... see what I did there?).

And this is all beside the fact that he was the one who set events into motion that created those photos in the first place. Don't believe me? What if you were to set your camera up on a tripod, and take a photo on a timer? It happens all the time when photographers want to photograph themselves, or when they want to avoid some of the camera-shake that happens when you depress a shutter button with your thumb. Technically you're not physically taking that picture, yet you'd still (hopefully) own the copyright because you set up a chain of events that caused the picture to happen.

I mean ... hopefully none of us want to live in a world where any jackhole can come along and go
Aha! Your thumb wasn't on the shutter button!!! Your photo is now in the public domain, yeaaaaaahhhhhh

Uhm no, dickwad, I still caused the photo to happen via my setup.

So it should follow that this nature photographer set everything up, and therefore caused a small chain of events that directly resulted in a monkey taking selfies (lol, I love this topic). So ... he owns the copyright.

Brace yourselves! Here come the trolls saying
"Oh he [gooooo] didn't know the monkey was [gooooo] going to do that! [drool]"

Maybe he didn't know exactly what was about to happen, but he sure was hoping something special was going to happen. Should we then say every photo where something special or unexpected happens "doesn't count", and should be placed in the public domain? Pfffffffffft bite me

What do you guys all think? Do you disagree with me?

This message brought to you by me being up way too late and also waiting for shit to load on my other computer. I am not a lawyer and nothing I ever say constitutes legal advice - Only the ramblings of a lunatic mind.

~Mike Peralta

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Mike Peralta is an independent musician and you should follow him on Twitter (@MikePeralta) and Instagram (@MikePeraltaMusic), then subscribe to his blog just a bit below this text!
Current avatar photo by Heinz von Bockelmann (CC by 2.0, modified by Mike Peralta)

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