Monkey 'selfie' picture sparks Wikipedia copyright row

The crested black macaque "selfie" taken with photographer David Slater's camera. Credit: Caters/David Slater

A British wildlife photographer is locked in a dispute with Wikipedia after it refused to remove his famous image of a 'monkey selfie,' as they claim he does not own the copyright.

David Slater was trying to capture the perfect picture of a crested black macaque during a trip to Indonesia in 2011 when one of the monkeys hijacked his camera.

The images, including this 'selfie' of a smiling female macaque, went on to make headlines around the world.

Under copyright law, the owner of a photograph is the person who takes it, which in this case would be the monkey.

But as animals cannot have copyright Wikipedia claims the image "falls into the public domain."

Mr Slater, from Gloucestershire, has now opened a dispute with the website and is now considering taking legal action, which would be the first of its kind.

He said: "The images went round the world for a year but I only made about £2,000 from them. When you take into account my travel costs to get there, I broke even, so I've not made any money from it

"Now Wikipedia are using the image on their website for free which means people are just taking it off there potentially costing me thousands of pounds in sales.

"I would only charge £10-£15 for it anyway. A photographer doesn't get pictures like this very often. It would be different if an amateur had taken it but this is my livelihood and at the moment I'm broke."

The image on the Wikipedia website. Credit: Wikipedia

A statement from Wikimedia, the organisation behind Wikipedia, said: "A photographer left his camera unattended in a national park in North Sulawesi, Indonesia.

"A female crested black macaque monkey got hold of the camera and took a series of pictures, including some self-portraits.

"The pictures were featured in an online newspaper article and eventually posted to Wikipedia.

"We received a takedown request from the photographer, claiming that he owned the copyright to the photographs. We didn't agree, so we denied the request.

"Because the monkey took the picture, it means that there was no one on whom to bestow copyright, so the image falls into the public domain."

ITV lawyer and author of The Law of Photography & Digital Images, Christina Michalos, said: "Unfortunately for the monkey she doesn't own the copyright in her photographs. Only a person or in some circumstances, a company can be a copyright owner.

"However, under UK law where an artistic work is generated by a computer, the person who makes the arrangements for creation is the copyright owner. Computer generated is narrowly defined in our law as meaning "without human involvement".

"It is arguable that the photographer is the owner on this basis or in equity - in other words on the grounds of fairness - because he owned the equipment and presumably had set up the camera for optimal focus and light in the jungle."