Monkey Business: Can A Monkey License Its Copyrights To A News Agency?

from the i-don't-think-so... dept

A year and a half ago, we wrote about a movie that was entirely filmed by chimpanzees, and wondered about who held the copyright on it. Technically, in most cases, whoever makes the actual work gets the copyright. That is, if you hand your camera to a stranger to take your photo, technically that stranger holds the copyright on the photo, though no one ever enforces this. There were some different theories made in the comments about who actually holds the copyrights, but no clear agreement. Of course, the whole discussion was purely theoretical, because it wasn't like anyone was concerned about the copyright.

However, now we have a similar, but different, story where I think it's a very valid question. Mr. LemurBoy points us to a story involving an award winning nature photographer, David Slater, who was in Indonesia in a national park. At some point, he left the camera unattended, and apparently a macaque monkey wandered over and took this hilarious self-portrait:
Now that's the best photo of the bunch, and appears to have no copyright notice on it (though that doesn't mean it's not covered by copyright), but two of the other photos, which the article also claims were taken by the monkeys, do have copyright notices, with the claim being that the copyright is held by the Caters News Agency.

So here's the legal question: how did the copyright get assigned to Caters? I can't see how there's been a legal transfer. The monkeys were unlikely to have sold or licensed the work. I'm assuming that it's likely that the photographer, Slater, probably submitted the photos to the agency, and from a common sense view of things, that would make perfect sense. But from a letter-of-the-law view of things, Slater almost certainly does not hold the copyrights on those images, and has no legal right to then sell, license or assign them to Caters.

Filed Under: copyright, monkeys

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  1. identicon
    All Seeing Eye, 10 Jul 2011 @ 4:02pm

    Re: Re: The US don't own the world despite what they think

    Techdirt is in the US and covered by US laws. Go look it up.

    ...and international ones also. But yes, I understand that if there's one country who famously ignores international law, treaties, resolutions its the US....and millions of people have suffered, including with their lives, thanks to that arrogance.

    Techdirt is a company, real or artificial, based in the US but its content is not - it is in hyperspace. In this case its content is being possibly used without consent of the creator. "Fair Use" allows "part use" of a work for critique, in this case it appears to be using an entire works (3 photos), and entire photographs (not part photos), possibly stolen or taken from another site that may also be stealing images ( - since these images are no longer available on that site. The photos here are totally irrelevent to the thread. They could simply be linked to - to a site that does have permission. That is my question to the webmaster and to those who like to play amateur legal advisor. It is suspicious also that TechDirt does not credit www.i.imgur as the source of the images that have Caters News Agency Ltd written on them. Is this a purposeful deceit? Is deceit and fraud covered by US law - or is it so entrenched in that society most are blind of it? This is most pertinent to a site that debates and questions copyright, particularly if said site believes it is above copyright law.

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