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. icon
    doughless (profile), 7 Sep 2011 @ 9:45am


    The only time you own the copyright (without a contract or work for hire) when you "cause it to be created", is if you directly set up the chain of events to create the picture, and there is no other creative input from another person. Otherwise there would be far less joint copyrights, or works for hire wouldn't need contracts or separate laws to exempt them from termination laws.

    In your example, the teacher has already likely created the entire exam, and she absolutely would own the copyright on the compilation of questions and answers. A student's separate answers, assuming that they have enough creative value to be copyrightable and that they are different enough from the teacher's original answers, are absolutely owned by the student.

    If you ask a neighbor to take a picture, even if he is using your own camera, he absolutely owns the copyright; if you also had creative input (subject matter, lighting, framing, where to stand, when to take the picture), then it's possible you would both own the copyright. Only if you could prove that your neighbor had absolutely no creative input (you set up the camera on a tripod and told him when to push the button), then you might own the full copyright.

    The entire thing that is up for debate here is if the chain of events this photographer set up, qualifies for enough creative input to qualify for copyright. Even if it does qualify, it's still extremely tragic that far too many people have never even entertained the idea that it is entirely possible for something to be created without being copyrightable.

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