Macaque   (c) David Slater


A man went broke.

He invested cold nights in 2011 in the Indonesian jungle befriending primates, photographing them and apparently cajoling them into taking selfies. One cheeky crested macaque, successfully got baited into the perfect selfie. Mr. Slater forwarded this to his agent for print work and after one newspaper published the image, it went viral and became a free for all.

Amongst those sharing in the spoils, were websites, with some tagging the image as public domain. Mr. Slater no doubt was perturbed by the nature of these events. He sued to get the scavengers off his intellectual property before it was reduced to mere morsels.

Creatives put a lot of effort into their final product. In this case money was spent on travel, bugs were squished, muscles were strained and grit was spawned to befriend the primates. The final product; in this very unfortunate digital world, was a click away for all to claim.

An animal rights organization came into this picture. They sued on behalf of the monkey on the basis that as the ‘thing’ that pressed the button; the monkey, was the actual author and thus the copyright owner.

In copyright, an author is the ‘person’ who creates the work.

Jurisdictional issues aside, it begs the question, were it not for Mr. Slater’s persistence, set up of his camera, being at the right place at the right time and sharing the end product, would the world be graced with this gem of an image?

The prospect of images not necessarily taken by us but by other species or machines, but nevertheless engineered by us, not belonging to us, may be a disincentive for creatives to share gems like this if they believe that they will not be acknowledged for their work or derive any benefit from such creations.

This should not be the intention of copyright law, to act as a hindrance and a barrier to creativity.

There were jabs about which specific monkey it was whose image was in contention and whether the right monkey was suing Mr. Slater for copyright.

Earlier this week, the court finally held that animals can have no copyright. Is this the final, definite, conclusive, long hard nail on the coffin on a battle that has been brewing since 2014?

There is a wad of disappointment here, not because the monkey lost the case, but because we may have missed the chance to give our primal friends (stuck in evolutionary dystopia) the opportunity to finally move on up and own real property in future! Who wouldn’t want to negotiate rent with a primate?

Mr. Slater gave us a Macaque selfie.

May no other human go broke in the creative process.