It all started in an Indonesian park in 2011. British wildlife photographer David J. Slater went to that park with his equipment and a mischievous macaque snatched one of his cameras. The macaque then started clicking the shutter aiming the lens at itself. As a result, few hundred photographs were captured by the monkey before Slater got his camera back. Among those photographs, although many of them were out of focus, one particular photograph where a female macaque is giving a toothy smile went viral on the internet and became popularly known as the “monkey selfie.”
However, things took an even more interesting turn when Wikimedia Commons, an online repository of free-use images, sound, and other media files uploaded a couple of those monkey selfies captured with Slater’s camera on its website. When Slater came to know about this, he claimed copyright of those photographs and asked Wikimedia to take down the images. But Wikimedia refused to comply with Slater’s request. They said that the images fall into public domain and no one holds copyright, neither Slater nor the macaque. On the other hand, Slater continued to claim that being the owner of the camera, he owned all photos taken with it.
The question about who owned the copyright over those images went to the US Copyright Office. In its decision, US Copyright Office opined that neither the monkey nor the owner of the camera holds any right over the photographs. The reason behind this decision was that according to Chapter 300 of the Compendium of US Copyright Office Practices, the US Copyright Office will register an original work of authorship, provided that the work was created by a human being. Therefore, a photograph snapped by a monkey cannot be copyrighted.