When it comes to photography, photographers very often find themselves in the unfortunate position of making sure that their work is not used without their consent. Even though most people don’t mean any harm in sharing their photos without consent, it still affects the original photographer’s livelihood.
Still, it can be tricky to properly source a photo on the Internet, so many professional photographers have enlisted the help of lawyers to get them restitution. However, hiring lawyers isn’t exactly cheap!
When David J. Slater saw his photographs were being used without his consent, he took action. He had no idea that, in doing so, he would be entering a legal battle that would go on for years. The worst part? The subject of his photos wasn’t even a human!
Selfies are a dime a dozen. But how about a selfie taken by a monkey? You’ve got to admit that’s one selfie that’s pretty darn special. It’s also one that has led to a court case so big that one man might wind up bankrupt.
While in Indonesia, photographer David J. Slater snapped a series of amazing photographs of a group of black Sulawesi crested macaques. However, the most remarkable of these photographs were taken by the macaques themselves after getting a hold of his camera.
After one of the photographs of these “monkey selfies” wound up on the popular website Wikipedia, people everywhere began “stealing” his photo for their own use. David was outraged and took the appropriate legal action.
But Wikipedia had its own defense. It stated that if the photograph had been “snapped” by the monkey, as David had claimed, then he actually owned no rights to the resulting photograph, since it was technically the monkey’s work of art. A fair point… in its own weird way.
When David published a book featuring the selfies taken by the monkeys, PETA decided to sue him on behalf of the primate artists. “If this lawsuit succeeds,” PETA claimed, “it will be the first time that a non-human animal is declared the owner of property, rather than being declared a piece of property himself or herself.”
Defending his rights has left David nearly bankrupt. He argued that he was the one who traveled to the jungle, formed relationships with the monkeys, and ultimately developed the film. As such, the photos, he believed, were his own.
For years, artists have fought to maintain the rights to their own photographs on the Internet. While this case might seem ridiculous on the surface, it’s actually a logical next step in this battle. As technology advances, it isn’t outrageous to think there may be more cases like this in the future.
When David set out to take these amazing photographs, going to court was the last thing on his mind. The reason he snapped these images to begin with was to draw attention to the endangered macaques.
David, at 52, had lost most of his savings in the fight over the copyright for these images. When a hearing was held recently in America about the case, the Englishman could not even afford a flight to the United States.
David was so frustrated about the case that he was considering giving up photography altogether. He said he would likely have to take up a new career just to pay the bills. He considered tennis coaching and even walking dogs.
As for the monkeys? Various attempts have been made to reach out to them for comment. However, because they are monkeys, this has proven to be virtually impossible.
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