It’s The Monkey Who Should Own The Selfie

On the one hand, Wikimedia contends that the selfie taken by a female crested black macaque in Indonesia in 2011 is owned by the monkey, but on the other it argues that the photograph is in the public domain because a photograph cannot be owned by a monkey. But there is no principled reason to deny photo credit to this fellow primate, other than our prejudice against the brilliance, autonomy and inherent rights of non-human animals. A court should rule that the monkey owns the copyright and could easily appoint a guardian or trustee to collect the royalties owed her for Wikimedia's use of the photograph. The court could further direct that those funds be used to benefit the macaque and her family, including to help preserve their habitat, plant fruit trees, reduce encroachment, etc.

Since the macaque has the intellectual ability to operate the camera and take not just the famous selfie but many others, she is entitled to own the corresponding intellectual property rights to the photos. Indeed, this is precisely the situation that all photographers are in, including the human photographer in this situation, David Slater, who admits that he takes thousands of photos, most of which are of no value, in pursuit of that rare "money shot."

In one interview, Slater points out that if a human assistant took a photo after he had set up the camera, he would own it. But he forgets that he has an employment or contractual relationship with that assistant. If Slater wants to argue to a court that he and other humans can employ and contract with animals like the macaque, PETA will support his position as long as the contract is fair and equitable. But here there was no such relationship, no compensation. Slater allowed the monkeys to use his camera and now he wants to possess the fruits of their labor and their intellectual property.

Were Slater on the other side of this question with another photographer whose camera he had merely borrowed, it's a safe bet that he would likewise fight for his own ownership rights. Many jokes surround this story, but the real joke here is a sad one-that humans are again trying to define, control, and exploit the rights and property of vulnerable beings who happen not to have been born human. It is high time that we recognized their right to be free from all forms of human exploitation. Can you picture that?