In case you missed it, a series of charming self-portraits by a macaque monkey in Indonesia came about recently when a nature photographer left his camera unattended. A smart monkey found it and started taking pictures of herself. They’re charming. But humans have gone and ruined it, as they are wont to do, by squabbling about copyright issues.
Usually, copyright is held by the photographer. Some of the images bore a credit line to Caters News Agency, for which the owner of the monkey-seized camera works; but how exactly can they have acquired the copyright? No employee of Caters took the photos.
Apparently Caters went after a Techdirt writer for using the photos without permission, and the writer’s argument was that seeing as a monkey took them, the news agency can’t own them. It doesn’t look good for Caters’ ownership claim, actually. As per U.S. Copyright Office code: “In order to be entitled to copyright registration, a work must be the product of human authorship. Works produced by mechanical processes or random selection without any contribution by a human author are not registrable.” Well then, that’s kind of that, right? The “human author” is missing, and so in theory the photos don’t belong to anyone. Except the monkey.