In the recent monkey selfie discussion, seems that the point about copyright is that who takes the photo owns the copyright.

Other questions are also related to this:

Can someone take a picture of me, then claim copyright over the material?

If someone makes a picture of me, who owns the right to it?

In the case, who took the photo (pressed the shutter) was the monkey. And the discussion becomes that taking a photo isn't just pressing the shutter, but also setting the equipment up, composing, adjusting, focusing, asking "say cheeeeese" and so on.

So, is there some consensus on how much effort is required to have copyright over a photo? I know there'll be a grey area at some point, but where are the dark/bright points?

  • 1
    When you say "skill and effort" are you referring to the 'skill and effort' to photograph an image or the 'skill and effort' to copyright an image? I think you mean the skill and effort to photograph something, but I want to be sure.
    – B Shaw
    Aug 7 '14 at 14:34
  • @BShaw I've updated the title, I think it's clearer now (and your understanding was correct, thanks for pointing another possible interpretation) Aug 7 '14 at 16:12
  • I can't see how this couldn't be opinion-based since there hasn't been a legal ruling on this yet. Now, the one thing we should all be worried about is a court siding with Wikimedia on this because the implication to users of event-based triggers such as sound or laser triggers.
    – Joanne C
    Aug 7 '14 at 19:14
  • JoanneC: I totally agree - What are those geniuses at Wikipedia smoking?! ... er ... I mean, why are they even arguing this? This is an easy one to let go, there is no upside for Wikipedia to fight this.
    – B Shaw
    Aug 8 '14 at 3:04

Since your question appears to be about the effort to create/compose a photograph, I'm expanding the discussion to any art (including photography) because copyright laws equally apply and there is precedence regarding your question.

So, in general, in jurisdictions I know of, unless it's a work for hire, the creator of the art (a photograph,a painting, musical composition, essay, etc) owns the right.

This is true, even if it appears to be random or it appears there was no intellectual effort to create that piece of art. One example is a musical composer, John Cage, who composed much of his music using random numbers generated by iChing 'throws'. One of his copyrighted pieces was actually 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence, called, not surprisingly, " 4'33" ". So, here is something, or rather about 4 and a half minutes of nothing, that is copyrighted. (Before someone says I'm being disrespectful to this famous avant-garde composer, I do respect his work and I actually worked with John Cage just before he died to use his random number technique to help him create some paintings. My job was to carry the rocks. )

Another example, this time of visual art, Gianni Motti, created a series of invisible art pieces, called Magic Ink - essentially they are blank canvases. You can see (or not see) those pieces of copyrighted art along with other similar copyrighted invisible pieces in this link. http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/bApkGpDSnKu/Press+Preview+Hayward+Gallery+Invisible+Art/browse

Although these artist did have skills, these examples show it is possible to have zero skills to copyright anything or even copyright nothing.

By the way, I'm not showing disrespect to any of the aforementioned artists/composers. I'm just pointing to the fact that even a box of nothing can be copyrighted, so it doesn't require skill to create a copyright-able work.


I am not a lawyer and you should neither act, nor refrain from acting on any opinions.

The link posted originally would seem to be answered by this comment from SeraphinaWinsham.

... David Slater had brought the cameras and set up the photography session. Under those circumstances, even if a human being had pressed the button to take an image with one of David Slater's cameras in David Slater's photography session, all paid for and organised by David Slater, that human being would not own the copyright of the photograph: it would belong to the person who owned the camera and had paid for the photography, and that would be David Slater in this instance.

That sums it up pretty clearly and any counterargument to that hangs on either the idea that the monkey owns the copyright or that because nobody owns copyright that no other restrictions apply.

A monkey is not legally defined as a person so from that standpoint it cannot own the copyright. Even if there was scope for non-humans to be defined as persons, a macaque would have trouble communicating its intent which would be key to communicating free will. There could be more potential for a chimpanzee like this one since they have more ability to communicate - but even convincing a court to grant that would be a hard sell.

Even if you assume that a work is in the public domain because it has no owner that still ignores that the owner has reproduction rights and these still apply where no copyright exists (or has expired, if they do expire which in some countries they don't - ever). Since nobody except David Slater has the "originals" he has the reproduction rights and can licence them as he sees fit.

  • I miss references for your statements. Or, since this is Wikipedia related: [citation needed].
    – lejonet
    Aug 7 '14 at 20:04
  • Let me know which references you think are missing and I'll take a look. Aug 10 '14 at 13:14

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.