UPDATED: Wikipedia Refuses to Remove Famous Photo Because Copyright is "Owned by Monkey"

THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN UPDATED 08/06/2014 10:55 AM PST. Wikimedia, the company behind Wikipedia, has refused the requests of a photographer to remove a photo from its Wikimedia Commons photo collection of royalty free images. The Telegraph is reporting that Wikimedia claims that the photographer who owned the camera on which the image was taken doesn't actually own the photo... the monkey who shot the selfie does. 


The person responsible for uploading the image to Wikimedia, Tomasz Kozlowski, has made a statement on Reddit saying that the Telegraph misrepresented Wikimedia's opinion. His statment is as follows:

Hi Redditers—I'm Tomasz Kozlowski and I am the person who uploaded the controversial picture to Wikimedia Commons on January 8.

The problem with the Telegraph article is that it misrepresents the position of the Wikimedia Foundation (and mine).

When I uploaded the file, I wrote in my edit summary: "This file is in the public domain, because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested."

The Wikimedia Foundation, I believe, has never claimed that the monkey in question holds copyright to the image. That's been confirmed in a tweet by Katherine Maher, the Wikimedia Foundation Chief Communication's Officer.

You can also see that there is no mention of this in the Foundation's transparency report that was published earlieryesterday today.


The Telegraph is reporting that the photographer has been fighting for some time now to get the image removed from the Wikimedia system as it is causing him to lose money.

The Gloucestershire-based photographer now claims that the decision is jeopardising his income as anyone can take the image and publish it for free, without having to pay him a royalty. He complained To Wikimedia that he owned the copyright of the image, but a recent transparency report from the group, which details all the removal requests it has received, reveals that editors decided that the monkey itself actually owned the copyright because it was the one that pressed the shutter button.

The photographer's point in this issue is that the trip and his equipment are extremely expensive (a statment I am particularly sympathetic towards) and that often one out of every 100,000 photos he takes makes money. This photo is one of those 100,000 that he would normally rely on, and because of Wikimedia he cannot.  

For every 100000 images I take, one makes money that keeps me going. And that was one of those images. It was like a year of work, really.

Even though it was his camera, it is true the monkey did snap the photo of itself, but do animals have the same copyright rights as humans? Is there really a case here? 

[Via Telegraph

Log in or register to post comments


Fernando Garcia's picture

What is this, "Planet of the Apes" ? Since when do animals enjoy the same rights as humans? Does this mean that the monkey can bear arms or vote as well? Kind of silly Wikimedia...

Adrian J Nyaoi's picture

That is the reason why they claim it is public domain. If it go to court I hope the photographer wins

Stefan Nilsson's picture

No, they don't argue that the monkey owns the copyright. They say that the photographer doesn't because he didn't take the photos. If animals can own copyright - that's a completely different discussion.

Fernando Garcia's picture

Could you imagine if they were arguing that the monkey has the copyright?? that would be a hell of a story.

Robert Potter's picture

The owner should have stated that the monkey held the camera but he took the shot via a remote shutter release. That should put a stop to all this monkey business!

Scott Hussey's picture

The photographer should have simply hired the monkey on a work-for-hire basis. Then he could have avoided all of this silliness.

Don Shader's picture

OK so the monkey snapped the picture but the photographer who owns the camera that housed the media and subsequently created the photograph should be the rightful owner of the copyright. Seems pretty simple to me.

Stefan Nilsson's picture

What you're saying is that if I lend you my camera, I'll own copyright on all of your photos? What happens if you rent one and take photos without owning it?

Don Shader's picture

The point is the monkey just so happened to activate the shutter but a human still created the image that appears. How can anyone argue that point? I don't think the constitution was written for the rights of monkeys. The photographer, regardless of whether he owned the camera or not, borrowed it or rented it, pushed the button or had it done by some other means, should be entitled to the copyright. I would LOVE to sit in the courtroom during this battle. I'm always up for a good laugh.

Stefan Nilsson's picture

How did he create the image when the monkey stole the camera, framed the photo and pressed the button? Sure, the 'photographer' bought the camera and transported it to the area where the monkeys are. However, I don't see owning and transporting the gear being enough to own the copyright.

Don Shader's picture

Stefan, you obviously don't get it. I think you're playing with us and that's OK. My point is that a human had to have created the finished image that was posted. I don't think the monkey downloaded the image from the camera and did post-processing, then delivered the finished product to Wikimedia. The copyright doesn't belong to the monkey nor Wikimedia. If you can't believe that, you're either foolish or just ignorant. Get online and read up on Copyright law.

Christian Lampe's picture

Actually the person who does post production on an image does not suddenly retain the copyright for the image unless noted in paper, or substantially changed. For example, if someone took that picture of the monkey and photoshopped someones face onto it, they would now own copyright (because its considered satire and would not take away credit from the original artist). But by just doing color correction does not give you copyright ownership. If it did, then anyone could take any image, change the color settings and call it their own

Stefan Nilsson's picture

I'm sorry but we obviously disagree. You're saying that he owns the copyright because he own and transported the camera and uploaded the photos. In other words, exactly the thing companies, assistants and editors do regularly without getting the copyright from the photographer (in this case a monkey) who picked up the camera from the ground, aimed it and clicked on the shutter.

Derek Matias's picture

So if this photographer handed his camera to me or any other person, to take a photo of him in front of something, he should retain the copyright because his travels and equipment are expensive? If he took the photo then he should own the copyright, but he didn't.

Ralph Berrett's picture

If a person triggered depending on the relationship/employment to the photographer had pushed the release then that could be argued about for copyright. In this case Wikimedia argument is basically because a monkey triggered the camera the copyright is void because it is an act of god.

Don't buy that argument. The photographer place the camera in a position for the monkey to hit the release. There really is no difference in that and using a remote release, or a motion or sound sensor to trip the shutter.

What Wikimedia is doing with the monkey argument is trying to place itself in a stronger position for negotiation, because they are on the losing end. So what it coming down to is we will make this a costly and long fight if sue us.

Stefan Nilsson's picture

No, according to the photographer - they picked it up from the ground and took photos with it. Basically the same thing as if you borrowed my camera to photograph your friends and then I insisted that I owned the copyright because it was my camera.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

I wonder if digital processing will now play a role in this. The monkey may have pressed the shutter but a human was responsible for loading it in the computer and editing the image.

At the same time, that would open up a huge can of worms between photographers and retouchers.

Ralph Berrett's picture

You missed the point it does not matter how the camera was triggered. A monkey is not a person. It could have been a snake, a dog, or Godzilla it would not matter. The photographer left the camera in place for the monkeys to pick up and trigger. There is no difference if it was remote or, an electronic trigger. All that matter is the photographer placed the camera in a position for the monkey to release the shutter. It does not matter how.

There are many wildlife shooters who never see the subject that is setting off the camera because using motion and pressure sensors to fire off the camera.

Christian Lampe's picture

I would still disagree with you. If the argument is that he brought the camera, knowing that it would be triggered by the subject (and not that the subject isnt human so it reverts to the next person) then that would be the same as if i left my camera at my friends house, knowing that he would shoot it. I think the difference between the monkey and your wildlife concept is who made the composition and set up the trigger system. According to the article the photographer did not set up this shot. He did not plan on the camera being stolen (and did not leave it somewhere to intentionally be taken). He also did not compose the shot, set a trigger system, or (from the sounds of it) even plan for the photo to be taken.

If i leave my camera in a place where i know a child can get to it, and the child picks up the camera and starts taking pictures, the photo does not become mine.

Ralph Berrett's picture

Intent really does not matter photography is full happy accidents. If it had been a child then there might be an argument, but, it is a monkey for intensive purposes a thing. It really does not matter. In the end all that matters is that it is his camera. Now you are right on an artistic and moral basis but not legally. Now the law might be different depending on the country but in general copyright stays with the Gloucestershire-based photographer.

Greg De Stefano's picture

Do take this even further down the weird hole, wouldn't the monkey technically be the one to decide on whether or not the image is allowed to be Royalty Free? IE if they are arguing that the monkey took the photo, the monkey would have to release it for free, images don't just default to free. Tho maybe they are arguing that it is public domain because no legal entity created the image...

Lee Christiansen's picture

Copyright can extend to more than who actually pressed the button.

If I set, lit and arranged a shot but someone else merely pressed the button then it would be a very strong argument that I still retained copyright.

Now there seems to be no lighting or specific compositional arrangement here - but there would be a strong argument that the photographer holds copyright due to his unique involvement and input - in that such a shot would not have been possible without him.

I certainly hope the court goes his way and clobbers Wiki for their silliness.

Don Shader's picture

I completely agree. The artist in this case is the photographer who CREATED the image. The copyright belongs to the artist. This is elementary.

Christian Lampe's picture

I would argue that the shot would not be possible without the camera (as opposed to the photographer). If the man had not been there but the camera had, the shot still would have been taken. I used this example in another post but imagine if you sat a camera down in front of a group of kids. If one picked it up and started taking pictures, the copyright would not belong to me

Daniel Flanagan's picture

The photos are from 2011, so I ask why is this all the sudden an issue, 3 years after the fact? Sure the photo has just recently appeared on Wikimedia Commons, but it's been easily downloadable from the July 5 2011 Guardian Article: http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2011/jul/05/macaues-indonesia-w... ...

I'm not saying the photographer is wrong, but I don't think his motives are as pure as they appear to be...

Ryan Mense's picture

Easily stolen off the Guardian article doesn't mean that the photograph is now fair use. The Guardian is crediting Caters News Agency which probably represented Slater's image with his consent. Now Wikimedia has taken it, claiming Slater has no rights, and freely giving the image away.

cqphoto's picture

lol, this is pretty asinine. but this monkey is obviously a rising star in photography and therefore deserves all the credit he can get so as to not force a large company to shell out for its mistake. seriously, they pulled the "blame it on the monkey" trick on this guy.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

After looking at the article published on The Guardian, I think it will go in favor of the photographer. He obviously had more of a hand in the photos than how the shutter was triggered. They obviously learned how to use the camera from him. There is a picture taken of him by the monkeys and one taking a selfie while smiling, which isn't a natural monkey behavior.

Does anyone know how the copyright is handled with the elephant and chimpanzee paintings? It's a similar concept, different medium.

Bryan Leighty's picture

Can anyone confirm if this Ape has a website, Facebook page or even an Instagram account? I am looking all over for contact info in order to book it for a portrait session. I need new head shots.

Rolando Perón's picture

I think there is an important matter that one should take into account: David Slater mentioned that the macaques took his camera when he was distracted and shot some photos, after that he started to interact with them and they shot more photos. The question is: were the wikimedia photos taken after he started to interact with them? If this is the case then he should own the copyright, on the other hand if the photos were taken before that (when he wasn't participating) then they should be public domain.

David Apeji's picture

If he had tried to register copyright with the copyright office, would he have been successful?

Jeff Perry's picture

Mr. Kozlowski is wrong; this is the work of a human even if the monkey did snap the shutter. This is no different than a human setting up a lightning triggered remote, that gets fired off by the bolt of lightning. Is he suggesting that the copyright of such an image, that would not have existed but for the work of the human, is owned by the bolt of electricity or perhaps the storm that created the electrical charge? This monkey-selfie would not have existed but for the work of a human, to suggest otherwise is ridiculous. Mr. Kozlowski had no right to upload the image and certainly no right to claim it as being in the public domain.

Herb Quick's picture

Why doesn't the monkey become part of a corporation? Then, it'll have rights just like a human being.

Robert Hall's picture

Well, the monkey did do his own edit of the image but simply didn't have access to a quality internet connection to show the world. The moral of the story, always have a contract, even when working with monkeys.

David Nickerson II's picture

Without the photographers camera the photo would've never happen. If the photographer never posted the image, it would've never been posted... If I'm doing a photoshoot and someone is helping (keyword helping a.k.a. assisting) me by pressing the trigger while I light the car, That does not make it their image. I'm the creator/director. (The same thing applies if I'm helping another photographer) technically this is his "creation" his "work of art" the situation may have not happened without him.
Imagine if someone tried to pull this on discovery channels videos/photos, I mean they leave cameras in the wild and things just happen to happen, sometimes animals interact with the unmaned cameras. But do you think any of it would happen without them planing it in the first place? No.. Now if a nikon fell off a truck on the way to a best buy and a Baby bear started playing with it, got it out of the box, set it up and somehow managed to turn it on and started recording or taking pics.. That may be a different story, but someone would still have to upload the footage and even then Nikon or Best Buy may claim they own the footage since the camera should've been returned (technically misplaced or stolen at this point) the camera was never intended to fall off the truck in the first place. It really starts to get ridiculous after a while lol

James Jenkins's picture

What kind of neo-enviro bullshit is this? Shut up and give the artist his due, wiki. God help us all if we're getting so far gone that semantic differences like "well, technically, the monkey took the picture..." Lose you a copyright.

paul aparycki's picture

This "situation" begs for some silliness and creative thought. Thomasz should immediately write up an agreement, a contract, stipulating himself, a friend, or perhaps a lawyer as the monkeys agent and rep. Back to the zoo, get the monkeys paw inked, and stamp the contract, have it witnessed. (I hope this was done in a zoo, otherwise the rest is hopeless). Then as an acting rep of the monkey (thomasz, friend or lawyer) should sue Wikipedia. There will be a lot of snorting and stamping about, and likely it will just fade, but not before it becomes a semi-viral issue.No longer on the lower levels of the net, but right up to the major news channels. Upshot, thomasz probably loses a little cash, but gets some priceless publicity which in the end will probably bring him more work than before.

Spriha Srivastava's picture

Very interesting article