Thursday, August 07, 2014

Monkey in Indonesia takes selfie, and Wikipedia says this puts it in public domain, in response to takedown notice from British wildlife photographer Slater

A British wildlife photographer, Daniel Slater, sent requests (and apparent cease and desist letters) to Wikipedia to stop distributing a “selfie” of a macaque monkey in Indonesia on its site.  Wikipedia claims that the animal owns the right to his  own photo because the animal pressed the shutter. 
The Telegraph has a story on the matter here. The Guardian has a tongue-in-cheek account here

Slater argues that he set up the shots and machinery.  But by the same logic, a photoshop might own the shots made in its facility.

Can an animal own rights?  Would it matter if it was a domestic animal (owned in an estate)?  In the film “Duma” (2005), a cheetah kept as a pet in a home on a South African ranch learns to operate a DVD player and probably could operate a camera.

Another interesting question could be, does it matter if the animal is capable of recognizing its own face?  Dolphins (and orcas), elephants, chimpanzees, and some other primates can do this.  What’s clear is that animals – most mammals (carnivores and primates, wild or tame) and even some birds (crows) know a lot more (about us) than we realize.
The Wikipedia question could be important for another reason.  Most pictures on Wikipedia can be used in blogs without permission as long as attribution is given – they generally have commons licenses;  some are in public domain.   We wouldn’t want bloggers or other websites that used a picture like this to get into legal trouble (possibly with a copyright troll).   My own feeling is that an animal selfie should be viewed as in the public domain.
A Seattle filmmaker put a tiny camera on a cat’s collar and made a video of the cat’s wandering.  Could the cat be said to own the video (or would it be in public domain)? 

Does American, British, or Indonesian law apply? 

The link to the disputed selfie is here

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