David Slater, the British nature photographer whose camera equipment was stolen by a selfie-mad macaque in 2011, has made repeated attempts to remove the famous photos that resulted from Wikimedia Commons, a database of royalty-free media from the organization behind Wikipedia. Wikimedia refused, claiming that Slater does not own the images' copyright.
Because the mischievous macaque pressed the shutter button, the organization argues, it is responsible for the photos, not Slater. And because a monkey can't own a copyright, Wikimedia put them online for free.
Now, Slater is suing, alleging that the Creative Commons license Wikimedia uses on the photo—allowing anyone to repurpose it without payment to Slater or anyone else—has caused him loss of income. From the Telegraph:
Mr. Slater now faces an estimated £10,000 legal bill to take the matter to court.
"If the monkey took it, it owns copyright, not me, that's their basic argument. What they don't realise is that it needs a court to decide that," he said.
The image has been removed in the past when he complained, but different editors regularly upload it once again.
"Some of their editors think it should be put back up. I've told them it's not public domain, they've got no right to say that its public domain. A monkey pressed the button, but I did all the setting up."
Let's assume for a moment that Wikimedia is right, and that by virtue of jamming a finger into the button that makes the big sounds and the scary flashy lights, the macaque is the photographer. Even if it can't technically hold a copyright, doesn't it deserve a voice in this argument?
Who will speak for the monkey?
Correction: An earlier version of this post asserted that Wikimedia claimed the monkey owned the photos' copyright. That isn't true: It only claimed that Slater doesn't own the copyright, and that the monkey is the photographer.
An emailed statement from Wikimedia is below.
We don't agree that the photographer in question has copyright over the images. That doesn't mean the monkey owns the copyright: it just means that the human who owns the camera doesn't.
For example, under US copyright law, copyright claims cannot vest in to non-human authors (that is, non-human authors can't own copyrights) — and the monkey was the photographer. To claim copyright, the photographer would have had to make substantial contributions to the final image, and even then, they'd only have copyright for those alterations, not the underlying image.