A British photographer and Wikimedia could be facing a legal battle over whether he or a monkey own the rights to a photograph that’s been seen across the internet. (Source: Wikimedia Commons screenshot)
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(RNN) – A British photographer is battling Wikimedia for the use of photos the open-source website says belong to the public domain of the monkey that took them.
Nature photographer David Slater told the British newspaper The Telegraph on Wednesday that during his 2011 trip to Indonesia, a crested black macaque stole his equipment and “took hundreds of selfies.”
Most of the photos, Slater said, are blurry, but two of them have made it to Wikimedia Commons. The web collection, owned by Wikimedia, holds 22,309,460 “freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute,” the website says.
The images have been posted across the internet since being posted to Wikimedia Commons. The site told Slater that because the macaca took the photos, they belong to the monkey and are otherwise public domain.
“If the monkey took it, it owns copyright, not me, that’s their basic argument. What they don’t realize is that it needs a court to decide that,” Slater told The Telegraph.
The photographer said use of the image has cost him a lot of money, and The Telegraph reports that Slater faces a 10,000 euro, or $13,383.95, legal bill to fight Wikimedia in court.
Slater petitioned Wikimedia, nominating the images to be deleted from its archives on Thursday. The reason, Slater said, is “Wikimedia is displaying it unlawfully.”
Wikimedia has classified the image as public domain, “because as the work of a non-human, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested.”
For its part, Wikimedia said in a transparency report Wednesday that no one, including the macaca, owns the image, thus its place in the public domain – and just because Slater owns the camera the photos were taken on doesn't mean the image is his.
The editors, throughout the conversation, are split on its decision, but the photos remain on Wikimedia Commons website.
One commenter wrote: “The monkey did not buy the camera and travel to a foreign country to take pictures. This isn't some funny random camera phone, Facebook photo someone found on the internet and appropriated. This guy takes photographs for a living. These photographs are his work.”