How That Monkey Selfie Reveals The Dangerous Belief That Every Bit Of Culture Must Be 'Owned'
from the no-monkeying-around dept
However, since a major newspaper (falsely) wrote that Wikipedia had decided the monkey holds the copyright, the whole thing went viral all over again. All over Twitter I saw people claiming that the monkey held the copyright. Unfortunately, this is somewhat pernicious, starting with the Telegraph reporter, Matthew Sparkes, who made the false claim. As Sherwin Siy notes in a very good post, it's very troubling that people now come to automatically believe that someone has to hold the copyright on a photograph. That's just not true:
The claim isn’t that monkeys have IP rights—it’s that no one owns the copyright in the photo. A lot of people seem to take issue with this, insisting that, if the monkey doesn’t own the copyright, the photographer must—that someone has to own a copyright in the photo.I think a big part of the problem here is that we've been trained incorrectly to believe that everything new must be covered by copyright. This is part of the most pernicious aspects of copyright maximalism today -- the idea that everything is covered by copyright. Only a few decades ago, nearly all created works were not covered by copyright and were public domain, free to be shared. It was only with the 1976 Copyright Act that the US switched from an "opt-in" policy to a "nearly everything is covered" policy, leading many people to (wrongly) believe that with any photo someone must hold the copyright.
But that just isn’t true.
This is the definition of the public domain—things that are not protected by copyright. We’re used to thinking of the public domain as consisting of things that were in copyright and then aged out of it after a length of time, but that’s just a part of it. There’s also works created by the federal government, and things that simply can’t be protected—like ideas, methods of operation, or discoveries.
That's a dangerous assumption for culture, highlighted by the fact that so many people default to insisting that someone must hold the copyright over this photo.
Meanwhile, for an even more amusing take on all of this, don't miss Sarah Jeong's defense of monkey copyrights satirical post:
It’s hard enough to eke out a living as an artist without the Copyright Office butting in and claiming it is literally impossible for you to own copyrights, just because you’re a monkey. What on earth is this “Copyright Office”, anyways? What right do they have to say whether a monkey’s work is worthy of copyright or not?That's only a snippet. The whole thing is well worth a read.
According to Slater’s own account, the Indonesian macaques were “already posing for the camera” when one of them started taking photos. Not all of them were good – as it turns out, some monkeys are much better photographers than other monkeys. The “monkey selfie” in question is a diamond in the mud: a truly remarkable portrait, perfectly focused and strategically positioned to capture a mischievous yet vulnerable smile. If that macaque had an Instagram account she’d have, like, a million followers.
But she doesn’t, and the sorry state of our copyright law – as interpreted by the Copyright Office and exploited by Wikipedia – is to blame. Due to the backwards treatment of animal creators everywhere, monkey art (and monkey photography in particular) continues to languish. How is an aspiring monkey photographer supposed to make it if she can’t stop the rampant internet piracy of monkey works?