Copyright – even monkeys get it
Have you heard the one about the monkey that stole a camera and took a grinning selfie that went around the world? The crested black macaque’s cheeky grin appeared everywhere. The wildlife photographer who owned the camera found the photo after he retrieved his camera. He posted the delightful picture on a few wildlife websites. It was very popular and was copied to thousands of websites and then appeared in newspapers, magazines around the world.
The photographer realised he was missing out on a small fortune for reproduction of the picture. He tried to claim copyright on the photo. He requested Wikipedia take down the picture as it was his camera and therefore his copyright. Wikipedia refused, saying the monkey took the picture so the monkey has copyright.
Australian copyright law, and most international copyright law, appears to be on the side of the monkey. The Copyright Act 1968 requires the originator of a work to have some creative input – whether it be writing, music, film, audio, computer programs art or photography. Under copyright law, handing your camera to someone who takes your photo would require some artistic or creative direction from you for you to have copyright. So if you tell someone holding your camera how to focus, to hold it for landscape or portrait or where to stand, you would have copyright.
If a photo is commissioned for “private or domestic purposes” the client is the first owner of copyright. An employer who directs a worker how to take the picture would own copyright as they are the originator of the work. Armed with this bit of law, the wildlife photographer is now claiming he was effectively employing the monkey by offering it food.
The case highlights important issues of copyright: copyright is not waived just because text or image is on the internet, copyright applies even without the © mark, copyright automatically applies to both published and unpublished work. As soon as it is fixed in some way such as paper, disk or USB, it’s covered by copyright. To use copyrighted work you need permission from the owner.
The laws covering copyright can be confusing so it is best to get legal advice if you are in doubt. Getting it wrong can be costly.
In England a man who went into a cinema and secretly taped the film was recently sentenced to 33 months in jail. He uploaded it to the internet and it was pirated 779,000 times. Universal Pictures estimated it cost them $4 million in lost revenue. Downloading the pirated film is a criminal breach of copyright.