A photographer was making his way through the jungles of Indonesia when the loveliest of lovely macaque monkeys took an interest in one of the photographer’s hastily misplaced cameras. Deciding she hadn’t had near the exposure due her good looks, the monkey grabbed the camera and snapped an amazing self portrait sure to immortalize her face among the greatest monkeys that ever lived.
An amazing story, however what’s most amusing (to me anyway) is the legal fight that is brewing over this photo. The photographer, or rather, the doofus who left his camera lying around (who is actually award winning photographer David Slater), has licensed the photo through Caters News Agency for publication by other news outlets. The photo has appeared on countless blogs and news sites without permission, leading Caters to aggressively protect its copyright.
Funny thing though—technically, neither David Slater nor Caters owns the rights to this photo.
So, who does own the photo? In the case of photography, the copyright is awarded to the individual who takes the photo. Yup. The Monkey.
Now of course our laws do not extend copyright privileges to our fuzzy kin. Considering this, the photo must drop into public domain, but that hasn’t stopped Caters New Agency from going on the warpath sending desist notifications to websites posting the photo without permission. Now that the ownership claim is in dispute, they have changed their tactic, saying that, while it’s still unclear who actually owns the copyright, it certainly does not belong to you, Mr. Blogger, so the photo must be taken down at once. Of course it doesn’t take too long before you realize that, by their own argument, Caters can make no claim to the photo either and so must remove the photo from their service as well.
For some reason we have decided that practically everything online is public domain (free) and we just love to share. The entire internet is in fact a social network built upon the sharing of information between one person and the rest of the world, with something like facebook’s true innovation being a central location for people to socialize, not the socialization of the network itself. I had heard about the story of the macaque photographer on Slate’s Political Gabfest, saw the photos online, heard about the legal implications on American Public Media’s On the Media and decided that this was a story worth sharing.
Is the story mine to share though? What constitutes copyright infringement online? The story is just an idea but the photo is not; it is tangible. Napster found out the difference the hard way with their music sharing service (again, like facebook, napster’s innovation was providing the venue), but musicians don’t make their money on their music anyway. A musician’s big payday comes from touring, so the greater the number of people who have access to their music means a greater number of likely attendees at the band’s next show. Considering this, you would think it would be in an artist’s best interest to hand their music out for free to every living soul on earth, but we all know that it is the business that handles the musician that makes that decision, and if there is any money to be made, they are going to make it.
No one has been able to propose a reasonable way for copyright laws and the internet to coexist. What is stealing and what is sharing? Look at this amazing photo. Look at the artistry. Look at what is new and beautiful in our world. I must share this. David Slater, the owner of the camera, could take great pride in playing his part for bringing something so wonderful to the public’s attention. That pride is payment enough, right? Unfortunately you can’t continue your professional work with pride, you can’t pay the mortgage with pride and you can’t you can’t eat pride, you can only swallow it.
Is the value placed on the art or on the artist? What happens when all content and information becomes free? Will the job of professional artist still exist or are we in the age of the hobbyist? No one really knows, but there is plenty of reasonable fear that creative people who once charged a premium for their work will soon be out of a job if no one is willing to pay. Then again, if creative people can’t figure out how to get paid, then maybe they really aren’t that creative after all.
The stunning self portrait must have been taken by a creative soul, I just wish she had been creative enough to hire a lawyer shortly after clicking the shutter.