Monkey see, monkey sue? Or, can a monkey hold a copyright?

Remember the amazing self-portrait of the monkey that was making the rounds the other week?

The Cliff’s Notes background:

A photographer, David Slater, left his camera unattended for a little while while he was in the forests of Indonesia. A female black macaque got curious, as monkeys are wont to do, and picked it up. The image accompanying this article was among the results.

The photo, first published in the Daily Mail, quickly made the rounds on the Internet and a monkey star was born. This photo was published simply EVERYwhere.

TechDirt wrote an interesting piece about the copyright issues involved — seeing as Slater didn’t shoot the photo and monkeys don’t often claim copyright violations, to whom did these photos belong? A couple were watermarked by the Caters News Agency, but TechDirt wondered if that could be considered legitimate under copyright law.

Copyright and fair use are huge topics of discussion these days and, admittedly, many photographers have had their work unfairly used because of terms of service that are extremely favorable to the platform and not the photographer.

But this case took another extremely surreal turn when Caters News Agency asked TechDirt to take down the photo. Though Caters is not claiming to hold the copyright on the image, the agency is claiming that SOMEONE does, so therefore the image should be taken down. Which makes me want to just publish approximately 6,000 copies of it here just for the helluvit.

And after the image was on just about 95.3 percent of the world’s websites after the Daily Mail published it, it’s hard to claim that writing a news story or editorial about it does not constitute fair use. How could I even write this without that amazing monkey face peering at you from this page?

While photographers have every right to claim ownership of their work. But an agency that owns (though the ownership of those images, I would imagine, is rather tenuous given that a macaque shot those, too) related photos cannot issue a takedown request on behalf of the Internet.

(Full disclosure: The headline was inspired by a line in the TechDirt story.)

Tell you what: If Ms. Macaque calls me up or writes me a really nice letter, we’ll take the photo down. But otherwise, don’t call us Caters, and we won’t call you.

Written by Amy Vernon

Amy Vernon a digital consultant and blogger, and a 20-year veteran of daily newspaper journalism. She was named the 15th most influential woman in tech on Twitter by Business Insider and PeerIndex.
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