Wikimedia, the parent company of your favorite source of hard facts and unquestionable truths, Wikipedia, is refusing a photographer’s request to remove a photo from its ‘Commons’ portion of the site because they claim, he didn’t take it – a monkey did.
British nature photographer David Slater photographed the black Macaque monkeys while in Indonesia in 2011. Naturally curious, and seemingly unafraid, the animals seemed to have a fascination less with David, and more with his Canon 5D. One particularly brave macaque took the camera, and the story goes, was attracted to the sound of the shutter when it was accidentally pressed, and kept pressing it. The result was hundreds of monkey taken photos including a few rather brilliant selfies, and even one of David.
While the story gained a lot of worldwide media attention, Slater has now found himself entangled in a legal dispute with Wikimedia. The non-profit organization feels that the monkey owned copyrights to the image since the monkey pressed the shutter button, and therefore Slater’s argument has no ground to stand on. They currently still have the image uploaded to their commons, essentially distributing his most famous photo…for free.
There seems to be some ambiguity surrounding what amount of involvement a photographer must have in order to claim rights to the image, and Slater is arguing hard that his involvement was enough. In a post with The Telegraph, he is quoted,
Some of their editors think it should be put back up. I’ve told them it’s not public domain, they’ve got no right to say that it’s public domain. A monkey pressed the button, but I did all the setting up.
That trip cost me about £2,000 for that monkey shot. Not to mention the £5,000 of equipment I carried, the insurance, the computer stuff I used to process the images. Photography is an expensive profession that’s being encroached upon. They’re taking our livelihoods away.
For every 10,000 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
Now Slater will be facing, not only the loss of licensing fees for his image, but near $17,000 USD in legal fees taking his case to court. Some are arguing that the legal case is bringing him more publicity than the photos ever would. I think that’s sort of besides the point, and a bit crass to even say. But we see this sort of thing all the time, and I’ve often wondered with Wikicommons, just how ‘common’ the photos they have are.