If the Indonesian crested black macaque has in its wisdom not claimed copyright for his famous toothy selfie, should we humans fight over who owns it? British wildlife photographer David J. Slater, who unintentionally aided and abetted the selfie by being the source of the camera that the monkey used, seems to think we should. Correction. He does not think we should fight over it because he says the copyright is clearly his since it was his equipment and he created the conditions which led to the macaque taking its own picture.
I have no position on this rather amusing controversy between Slater and Wikipedia/Wikimedia where the former says the photo belongs to him but the latter says it is should be available for free downloads to anyone because it is in the public domain since it is a work of a non-human animal. To avoid being sued by Slater I have chosen to draw my own version of the macaque selfie which looks like a sinister cross between a human skeleton, a dog and a macaque.
In such contentious debates, I often turn to Nature which never claims any copyright. One can argue that Nature does not claim copyright because a) It has seemingly infinite spectacles to offer and b) It couldn’t care less. In contrast, we humans can create only so much that is spectacular and hence we feel possessive about our, well, possessions. Slater has recognized the obvious commercial potential of this now iconic image. It is natural for him to enforce his own copyright.
Let me flip the situation and present an imaginary scenario. Suppose a wildlife enthusiast was in a thick forest and came upon a rare species of monkey near extinction and whose hunting was a crime. Now suppose the enthusiast had a gun that he left unattended for a few moments and the monkey picked it up. After two suppositions, make a third one which is that the monkey accidentally fired the gun and killed himself. Would the enthusiast be liable to be arrested and prosecuted for aiding and abetting? I am not sure where I am going with this argument but I am sure I am going somewhere.
Here is my suggestion. Let Slater track down the particular macaque and settle the issue. I don’t think the monkey needs money much because he has everything in his generic name that money has plus an extra k. (The last line is so stupid. Actually, so is the controversy).