Who owns the copyright? Long legal battle spells financial trouble for famed monkey selfie photographer
Nature photographer David Slater shot to viral fame in 2011 when he released a series of selfies taken by macaques during a shoot in Sulawesi, Indonesia. It was the kind of image and popularity that every photographer would dream of, Slater says.
But now, 6 years later, Slater is struggling financially after long years of a dragging legal dispute over who owns the copyright to the photos the monkeys took using his camera.
Slater has maintained that he owns the copyright, citing his own work, effort, and knowledge in setting up the entire scenario and coaxing the monkeys to come to his camera and press the shutter while looking into the lens. Even the US Copyright Office backed up this claim, after ruling that animals cannot own copyrights.
But Slater has been embroiled in a long-running copyright battle. In 2014, he asked Techdirt and Wikipedia to take down the images, but Wikipedia refused, saying the monkey was the actual creator of the mage, and therefore copyright doesn’t belong to Slater.
A year later, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) filed a suit against Slater on behalf of the monkey. In 2016 a judge later ruled against Peta, saying animals are not covered by the Copyright Act. But the organization appealed the decision, and the ninth circuit court of appeals heard oral arguments on July 12.
But Slater could not attend this hearing, too broke to afford the airfare from his UK home to San Francisco. He told The Guardian that he’s now looking for other ways to earn a living. Once, economic stability was within reach for a photographer like him, due to his popularity from the monkey photos. But now, after years of a legal dispute, he said that he is “seriously on the verge of packing it all in.”
Even as he faces financial difficulties, Slater says the only consolation for him was that he may have helped save the crested black macaque from extinction.
“These animals were on the way out and because of one photograph, it’s hopefully going to create enough ecotourism to make the locals realize that there’s a good reason to keep these monkeys alive,” he says.
Read the full story on The Guardian.