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
    Amused Coward, 15 Jul 2011 @ 5:53am

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

    I've been brought to this site from reading about copyright law, as I too am an artist who relies on sales of work to live. It is my only source of income as I suspect these photos are to Mr Slater. I support copyright and the way it protects the owners of art work. I am also appauled at how the internet is abused by freeloaders of art work.

    I have tried to be patient reading the crap on here, but I feel the urge to respond. I have heard before loud gobshites who uses bullying and threats to feel superior. Why do you, Mr Coward, provoke reaction on a website seemingly created to rip off the gullible who fall for Floor 64's advert in the Insight Community section ("...using conversational marketing to supercharge your corporate advertising, blogging, strategy...". Bullshite. You can only be a SHILL, who, to paraphrase techdirt and it's owner, promotes the freeloading of others work and ideas. You seem absent your own artistry other than to be a gobshite, and so feel a need to grab off others. A parasite. Are you a sponser of this conversation even?

    Now, it seems you can back up nothing because all of what you say is based on assumption about the photos and who is the author. Where you there? Did you speak to the monkeys? Yes you are arrogant because you cannot back much of your tripe up - this is why you rant.

    This thread is to me, NOT using images under fair use because it is promoting conversation, and it is conversation that techdirt and Floor 64 use to make money. This conversation is potentially profit making, and at least, traffic generating. So, these images are not being used as fair use, due to their "advertising" role on a website that profits from conversation. I hope Caters read this before it no doubt gets the chop, but hey, maybe someone will spread some shit about this company on the internet.

    I do believe though, despite my feelings, that continuing with this debate, thankfully, makes more profit for the creators, as law-abiding, non-freeloading newspapers pay for the images again to discuss copyright law, and also aids promote the monkeys too - who will ultimately get paid for the modelling session in greater protection of their home. I don;t suppose you or this site cares for the animals in any real way, other than to bring them into an argument. Millions of folk have laughed and enjoyed these photos. Why are you so persistent to try and piss on a lovely story?

    Only freeloaders, rights grabbers and communists don't like copyright, eh?

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