Wikipedia refusing to erase the Monkey Selfie is politically dangerous

The copyright case of the monkey selfie

In a case of ridiculous and typically geekish legal battle, Wikipedia refuses to remove a photograph that a monkey took of itself by pushing the button of the camera of David Slater, a photographer. 

People were quick to pretend that Slater has no right to the copyright to the photo.

The Gloucestershire-based photographer now claims that the decision is jeopardising his income as anyone can take the image and publish it for free, without having to pay him a royalty. He complained to Wikimedia that he owned the copyright of the image, but a recent transparency report from the group, which details all the removal requests it has received, reveals that editors decided that the monkey itself actually owned the copyright because it was the one that pressed the shutter button.

They came back from the idea that the Monkey owned the copyright to the photo – some Wikipedia users still think he could own it, but Wikipedia still pretends that the photographer has no right on it. They even pretend that it should belong the Public Domain.

The case seems pretty clear though. The creation was made without the photographer, but thanks to a bit of luck, and to a scheme that he organized, the Monkey pushed the button and took a beautiful picture. It looks a lot like an automatic creation – the vocabulary might be different under US jurisdiction – and copyright should thus be given to the photographer as the indirect creator of the picture. Just like when you setup a camera somewhere and allow it to take automatic pictures.

If it was only another stupid copyright case, there should be no harm. But I see dangerous trends here:

  • Wikipedia is putting the Public Domain at risk by overextending it to illegitimate things… it’s one thing to fight against the extension of Copyright terms, it’s another to try to get free access to the work of actual artists… They used to be more cautious on these issues.
  • Just like in the « right to be forgotten issue », Wikipedia chose a maximalist and libertarian interpretation to decide what norms should apply online, creating a dangerous conflict with our existing liberties and freedom… and showing little or no respect for the works and wills of those who don’t belong to the « community »

This is bad omen at a time when people have more and more questions about the bad sides of the digital world on our society. Companies like Google, Uber and AirBNB are under pressure everywhere. But the Wikimedia Foundation is a not-for-profit and a role model for many other projects. They should probably stay out of these political and commercial issues. It’s a worrying sight to see them on this road.

Via Kottke: The copyright case of the monkey selfie.

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