Selfie by a monkey: Why Wikipedia won't delete this one picture

A selfie taken by a black macaque on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi three years back has become a tug of war between Wikipedia and the photographer who claims he is the owner of the selfie. Wikipedia has refused to remove the famous selfie, saying the monkey - and not the photographer - owns the copyright because the animal took it.

"This file is in the public domain because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested," a message on Wikipedia site read.

The photographer David Slater was clicking photos of crested black macaques in 2011 when one of the endangered monkeys hijacked his camera and snapped hundreds of pictures. Among those, there were some stunning images, including a selfie of the macaque that made headlines.

Slater is now planning to take legal action against Wikimedia that owns Wikipedia, after the company used the photo on its site without permission, media reports said. "I own the photo but because the monkey pressed the trigger and took the photo, they are claiming the monkey owns the copyright," Slater was quoted as saying.

 Selfie by a monkey: Why Wikipedia wont delete this one picture

The monkey selfie at the heart of the controversy.

According to him, Wikimedia's decision to include his image in its database and making it free to download had resulted in a loss of earnings. Slater could sue the company for statutory damages of up to $30,000, reports added.

Slater had told Telegraph UK at the time when the pics had first caused some interest in 2011, "They were quite mischievous jumping all over my equipment, and it looked like they were already posing for the camera when one hit the button. The sound got his attention and he kept pressing it. At first it scared the rest of them away but they soon came back - it was amazing to watch."

According to Slater, he's doing this because photography is his bread and butter and after all it was his equipment that the monkey used. “For every 10,000 images I take, one makes money that keeps me going. And that was one of those images. It was like a year of work, really, ” he told Telegraph. 

The debate has raised an interesting question on who owns the selfie taken by a non-human. Interestingly as this BuzzFeed article points out Wikipedia is sticking to the picture not because it really thinks that the monkey owns the image, but because "as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested."

According to Telegraph, Wikipedia also noted in its report on, "to claim copyright, the photographer would have had to make substantial contributions to the final image, and even then, they'd only have copyright for those alterations, not the underlying image. This means that there was no one on whom to bestow copyright, so the image falls into the public domain ."

With inputs from IANS

Updated Date: Aug 07, 2014 13:05:50 IST