Copyright Questions: Who owns the Selfie?


First and foremost, the picture above is credited to David Slater, who says that he owned the photo but he didn't capture it. He created the conditions that were optimum for such a picture and as such had claimed to it. Unfortunately, Wiki-commons disagreed and now there is a ongoing copyright battle on who owns the picture. 

What is Public Domain?

Wiki-commons lets people put up copyright free images for everyone's use and these become public domain picture which cannot be used commercially. But seriously folks, do you think people will ever care to respect this bit?

public domain images of Steve Jobs
There are plenty of images in public domain which you can use for blogs and researched papers that will be deposited in pubic domain. Such images cannot be used for commercial gain so even if you used this picture on a banner advertising your garage sale, that would be in breach of the law, citing wiki-commons isn't going to save you.

Who can put Pictures in Public Domain?

Only the photographer can decide to donate a picture he took to public domain. Nothing else matters. The problem here is two folds, Slater didn't take the picture nor did he get a signed release from the Monkey as a model. This makes the whole idea on Slater owning the picture very murky.

So technically, the monkey owns the picture, regardless if it was Slater's camera that took the picture. And since Slater did not get a signed model contract....there is no copyright contention.

Monkey See Monkey Do

Slater baited the monkey to take the selfie. But in the end, he could have just sold the picture as something he had owned. To save himself, he could have fibbed about the picture and then made millions in selling the image for commercial use. Selfie was in essence a bad tag for the picture because this is what created the copyright debate.

Stupidly, he didn't have the brains to do this and now it is too late. However all is not lost. Even if the image is in public domain, it still cannot be used commercially. Slater can still profit from this if he can prove he is the holder of the analogue image.

Opps. He shot digital. Damn. He could have gone the analogue route and saved himself a ton of problems.

Digital files are useless. You may own the RAW image of the file but no one is going to look at a RAW file as proof of copy. Anyone can technically steal a RAW image from your HD and put that up as his own. Even a high resolution JPG can be turned into a DNG file with the right app. Quite a different story if you had a copy of the analogue image in your HD and the real slide or film image in safe keeping.

Lesson is, professional stock image photographers would be better off shooting analogue to protect their own interest. Digital is vaporware...think about it.

This is the lesson gleaned from photographers all over the world who have accidentally shot and released images onto the Internet and regretted it later as it would have cost them lots in commercial licensing.