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Who owns the copyright to a monkey selfie?

In 2011, a monkey grabbed an unattended camera in the Indonesian forest and snapped a quick self portrait. The resulting image quickly became an internet sensation, and today a full-fledged controversy is underway regarding ownership of its underlying copyright.

Photographer David Slater, the owner of the camera that was used to take the monkey selfie, says he is the rightful owner of the copyright to the picture. However, Wikimedia Commons claims that the photograph is a part of the public domain and has declined to remove the image from its website. 

The now-infamous photo was created while Slater was traveling in Indonesia, photographing animals on a three-day tour of the forest. At one point, he walked away from his tripod briefly and returned to find a group of macaques monkeying with the camera. 

Understandably, Slater says he went to considerable expense to obtain the photograph, and that its widespread dissemination on the Internet for free has hurt his business and cost him a great deal of money. Part of theory behind copyright law is to give creators an incentive to invest their time and money in the production of original works by allowing them the exclusive right to profit from those works.

However, Wikimedia argues that Slater is not the rightful owner of the copyright because he did not actually take the picture. Thus, they contend, he is not the creator of the image and is not entitled to the protections that a copyright provides. Although the circumstances of the case have their roots overseas, its resolution could affect the rights of artists and photographers right here in California.

Source: The Washington Post, "If a monkey takes a selfie in the forest, who owns the copyright? No one, says Wikimedia." Abby Philip (viewed Aug. 8, 2014)

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