If a Monkey Takes a Photo, Who Owns the Rights?

I'm sure you've all read the story about David Slater and how he left his camera unattended, only to have a monkey snap self-portraits with it. When this story came out many jokingly questioned the monkey's copyrights to the photos. A question that has become a legitimate concern after Caters News Agency claimed, in an email, to have been given said rights and demanded that Techdirt remove the photos from their site.

Below you can read the email correspondence between the two parties involved and see the photos in question.  Unless we also receive a take down notice for the images.  In which case you will scroll down and just see a blank space 357x768 in size. :)

Caters News Agency original email: "Hello, I have noticed you have used David Slater's images on your website. However we are representing David Slater and syndicating these images on his behalf. These images are being used without David's or our permission, therefore can I ask you remove these images from your site immediately. Please email me to inform me when this done. Thanks"

When Techdirt’s emailed them back questioning the validity of a monkey's ability to own copyrights the news agency’s further responded with: "Michael, regardless of the issue of who does and doesn’t own the copyright – it is 100% clear that the copyright owner is not yourself. You have blatantly ‘lifted’ these photographs from somewhere – I presume the Daily Mail online. On the presumption that you do not like to encourage copyright theft (regardless of who owns it) then please remove the photographs."

Mike Masnick of TechDirt, the author of the posts, wrote back: "If I’m reading this correctly — and I believe that I am — Caters News Agency is claiming that anyone, copyright holder or not, can issue a takedown on a photo, if they can claim that the person using the image is not the copyright holder either — regardless of whether “fair use” applies. That’s… an interesting interpretation of the law. It’s also not a valid interpretation of the law. In fact, in some places, sending a takedown notice, if you are not the copyright holder, is what’s actually against the law. It’s absolutely true that we are not the copyright holder, but as I made clear in my email, that does not matter, as we believe that our use qualifies as fair use. The whole point of fair use is, in fact, to allow those who are not the holders of the copyright to make use of the work in some cases, so it seems odd that Caters would imply no such thing exists."

The original photo:

The images in question:

Many sites, such as PetaPixel, have posted follow up stories in light of Caters News Agency's demands and eagerly await the outcome of this drama. The net is buzzing with opinions, so be sure to leave your opinions and comments below.

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Jason Peters's picture

I don't know enough about copyright laws to give a valid opinion about this, This is something I would take to my lawyer. But at first glance I would say copyright goes to David, unless of course he has a contract signed with the news agency stating that they own the rights to any shots david takes on assignment for them. Maybe I am misunderstanding the mix up...  

Anonymous's picture

Actually, techdirt had a later post looking more into who held the copyright for the photo. The short answer was "nobody". The longer bits were that since David really had no input into the photo, he didn't own the copyright. As the artist, the monkey is the next likely candidate, but copyright laws in US, UK, and Indonesia specify copyright can only be held by "persons," which excludes the monkey. Although, if you read Indonesian law upside-down while squinting and hopping a quarter-turn to the left (no the other left...) the Indonesian government might own the copyright, if the monkey is considered property of the nature preserve.


Mark Alameel's picture

From what I read above, it seems that the news agency also claims that they do not have the copyright either but I guess are trying to issue a takedown notice on behalf of the monkey?

Lee Morris's picture

I guess this destroys my point about it being "all about the photographer and not the camera"

Paul Monaghan's picture

that is some awesome monkey self portraits :D

BDub's picture

great framing on the first one, but the dutch tilt is a little cliche, haha. But its an interesting story.

Anonymous's picture

Did the said monkey sign a model release? Hmmm.....

Werner Rolli's picture

Copyright goes - as far as I understand - to the person who had command over the shots which is in general the photographer, even if he handes a camera and gave instructions to someone to take pictures for him or left a camera on shoot intervalls. Don't know about the monkey, though ...

Kurt Stevens's picture

What a badass monkey, if he can shoot like that, he should have copyright. 

Sean Shimmel's picture

Have you asked Crichton's "Amy"? 

Congo :)

Martin Beebee's picture

Yep, now even a monkey can take a photo. This is going to make is harder for me to raise rates in the future. :-)

Interesting how Caters News Agency doesn't claim to be the copyright holder (and in fact suggests that they don't know either), and yet puts their copyright notice on the pictures.

How is this even standing up in law? I mean, David released the images, so that means he'd have ownership before anyone else would, regardless of who took the photo.

Marilyn Ward's picture

So say for instance, i want a photo of myself posing in a certain way and I did all the work setting up the shot, and then gave the camera (my camera) to someone else to take the shot , then who in this instance is the owner of the photo?  

asghar ahmed's picture

strange monkeys