Monkeys, cameras, and copyright

Credit: flickr/Fort Wainwright Public Affairs Office

Who owns the copyright on pictures taken by a monkey?

The folks over at TechDirt have been up to some monkey business, literally. The story "Monkey Business: Can a Monkey License its Copyrights to a News Agency?" detailed photographer David Slater and some photographs taken with his camera by monkey on Sulawesi, an island in Indonesia. A macaque monkey got the camera and took a charming self portrait, which TechDirt says is the best of the group (including those by Slater). So what's the problem?

In our legal-overload society, who owns the copyright? Technically, the person who takes the photo. But what if it's not a person? And worse, why did the Caters News Agency send a mean letter to TechDirt demanding they stop showing the photos? That's really worse, because that got TechDirt all riled up, and literally hundreds of their readers jumped into the crazy monkey house with them. So who owns the copyrights?

Work for hire. He gave them a banana. -- Anonymous Coward on TechDirt.com
This is how Planet of the Apes truly began. First you give the apes copyright, then they take over the world. -- Anonymous Coward (movie fan version) on TechDirt.com

After the letter from Caters News to TechDirt demanding they take the photos down, more readers jumped into the argument.

They messed with the wrong website. Not only is it very questionable whether they own the copyright or not, and therefore can't ask you to take it down *at all*, but this is clearly a case of fair use. -- Anonymous Coward on TechDirt (lots of Cowards here).
Well, they can *ask* anything they want. They didn't really ever claim to have any sort of legal claim. -- TechDirt – guess who?
I notice that Caters seems to carefully avoid claiming it holds, or has an interest in, the copyright on the photo. -- I do hope to see the short and polite response from Mike telling them to F off. Come on Mike let's keep this train rolling! -- Steven on TechDirt (Yay! A real name!)
Caters News, regardless of the issue of who does and doesn't own the copyright - it is 100% clear that the copyright owner is not yourself. -- Meee on TechDirt

Readers over at Gizmodo joined the party.

Oh god, this is exactly the sort of absurd situation law professor use for exam questions. I am having flashbacks. -- hardvice on Gizmodo
I own it; I just downloaded it. -- Curves on Gizmodo

Finally, the answer, on PetaPixel:

Monkeys would own the copyright if they had lawyers. -- John Kantor on PetaPixel.com
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