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'Monkey Selfie' Photographer Now Wants Money for 'His' Photo

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on December 15, 2014 8:52 AM

Remember the "monkey selfie"? Well it's back in the news, this time sans monkey.

In August, we blogged about the case of a black macaque (which, unlike a chimp, is properly called a "monkey") that pushed the shutter of photographer David Slater's camera while it was set up on a tripod.

Slater claimed that he owned the photograph, but we (along with others) concluded that the photo had no owner. Slater didn't create the photo, but a monkey isn't a "natural person," so it can't own anything. Now, Slater is taking his monkey selfie fight to copyright experts.

I Swear I'll Sue

For some reason, Slater wrote an email to Sherwin Siy, who blogs at the website Public Knowledge. Siy had written a post back in August agreeing that no one can own a photo taken by a monkey. Slater disagreed, calling the post "factually incorrect and damaging to me."

After calling Siy's legal opinion "factually incorrect," Slater then opined that he knew better than Boalt graduate Siy about what constitutes fair use. The letter is ... well, unfortunate even when it's cogent (which is more often than you might surmise), and you can read it in its entirety at Public Knowledge's website.

Ultimately, it ends on a threat to sue Siy if he doesn't "rectify the article with another article that reports the facts of the story." Notably, a failure to respond within 24 hours will be taken as "your acceptance of guilt."

Siy responded that he would not be publishing a correction or purchasing a license to the image, that Slater's legal analysis was wrong, and ended by providing an address at which he could be reached "for service of process."

'No One' Still Owns the Photo

From the start, Slater has been quite clear that he wants to cash in, big time, on the monkey selfie. "If it was a normal photograph and had I claimed I had taken it, I would potentially be a lot richer than I am," he told The Washington Post back in August. The monkey selfie even came to prominence then -- in spite of it being taken three years ago -- because Slater Streisanded himself by asking Wikimedia Commons to take it down, claiming that he held the copyright.

Slater clearly isn't the author of the photo, regardless of where he's claimed to have registered it. Siy deflates Slater's biggest balloon when he points out that the United States Copyright Office amended its manual of what's copyrightable by explicitly stating, as its first example of something that can't be copyrighted, "A photograph taken by a monkey."

Sorry, David Slater. Hopefully you'll have made some intentional choices so you can cash in on the next animal photo phenomenon.

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