When photographer David J Slater organised a trip to Indonesia, to set up a project to photograph macaque monkeys, and after a period of photographing and building up trust and a rapport with the monkeys, he set up a camera on a tripod, with a camera release to see if the monkeys would show interest in taking a self portrait, or selfie, as the Facebook generation would call it, as if a new invention.
Being a curious bunch, the monkeys complied, and whilst grinning directly into the camera lens, and grabbing at the cable release, took her own photo. Then the photo went viral on the internet, and posted into Wikimedia, tagged with the copyright notice, ‘Animals Can’t Own Copyrights’ which meant David J Slater photograph was available for anyone to download and use as they wish. The photographers lawyers disagree with Wikimedia, and are challenging their categorisation, on the basis that he owns the camera equipment, it was his photo assignment, paid for by him, so he owns the copyright of the image.
It does beg the question of copyright ownership of images if it is theoretically connected to the press of a shutter button? What if you set up a timed exposure, or motion detector? Does the camera own the copyright, or the Chinese manufacturer that built the camera on the assembly line? The problem isn’t that Wikimedia are saying that the monkey owns the copyright, but that the photograph is uncopyrightable.