Landing : Athabascau University

Macaque monkey self portrait

Image of a macaque monkey taken by itself when it snatched a camera. Legal consensus is that this is in the public domain as a monkey is not considered to be a person in most countries.


  • Interesting on several counts!

    Veronica Baig July 19, 2011 - 11:00am

  • So ...

    If a monkey snatches my camera and takes my photo, then my photo is in public domain.

    If a person snatches my camera and takes my photo with my camera, he owns the rights to my photo.

    What if a photo is taken by a robot which is programmed to perform actions at random. If it takes my photo, do I own the rights or is it public. If I own the robot, do I own the rights to pictures it takes? If not, why not? I would be liable for any damage it causes.

    Since wildlife is owned by the state, doesn't the state own the rights to this photo.

    Nazim Rahman July 19, 2011 - 11:13am

  • Which countries recognize the personhood of monkeys?

    Mary Pringle July 19, 2011 - 12:37pm

  • @Mary - possibly Belgium?

    I hate to give ammunition to those who assert property rights over something that occurred by chance and that involved little visible creative effort. However, there might be a case here that this is not public domain, despite apparent consensus that it is.

    I have a dog-cam that hangs around the dog's neck and that takes pictures at regular intervals. The vast majority of these are of course rubbish, but I have a great picture that our dog took of me as my profile image for Skype. Neither the dog nor I played any conscious role in taking it, though I guess I did consciously set the camera in motion in the expectation that there might be some interesting results and I did deliberately encourage her to run towards me. However,  by the criteria suggested here, they might be considered to be public domain. The important issue here is that I played a very active role in selecting one that has value from a very large number that didn't. To some extent, albeit here in a more constrained way, this is what any photographer does when taking a picture-  to consciously select an image from a range of possible images. 

    The owner of the camera in this case actively chose it from a range of others and, I'm guessing from the relative dimensions, probably trimmed it and maybe even adjusted some aspects of the colour balance and so on. This act of choice is what makes a photo a creative work in the first place. The fact that the choice is more constrained than it would otherwise have been doesn't affect the issue of whether a creative choice was made at all. A similar case might be made for some found or accidental objects that figure in dada art. For instance, the shattering of the glass in Duchamp's nude ascending a staircase or his R.Mutt urinal. On the other hand, if I picked out a particular pot that someone else had made on a shopping trip because of flaws in it that I happened to like, would I be the copyright holder? Probably not.

    Interesting stuff. 

    Jon Dron July 19, 2011 - 5:02pm

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