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Dave Ross

There is an Indonesian monkey who needs a good attorney

By law it's the human who presses the button who gets the copyright. (Photo from the camera of David Slater via

Photo: Selfies in the news

Three years ago, British photographer David Slater was on a guided tour of an Indonesian forest when he experienced what I assume is every Indonesian tourists dream: a close encounter with a crested black macaque.

The encounter was so close that when Slater walked away from his tripod, the macaque grabbed the camera, and accidentally took the first macaque selfie in history. It was spectacular.

Slater claimed a copyright, but it went viral and ended up available for free on Wikimedia which has refused to take it down. And so despite millions of repostings, Slater hasn’t made a dime.

According to Rhett Barney, an intellectual property attorney with the law firm of Lee & Hayes, the law is clear.

“The copyright laws in the U.S. as well as the United Kingdom, where the photographer is from and Indonesia where the monkey was located, specifically require a human, a person, be the one who takes the photo in order to gain copyright,” Barney said.

So by law it’s the human who presses the button who gets the copyright. But that would mean this isn’t the only selfie that’s on shaky ground – what about the famous group selfie Ellen DeGeneres took at the Oscars?

“The debate there is – well, that’s Ellen’s phone. But it was Bradley Cooper that snapped the photo. So Bradley Cooper is the one that pushed that button, he owns the selfie,” said Barney.

Although, being that in his latest movie, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Bradley Cooper plays a raccoon – maybe not.

Listen to the full interview on the ROSSFIRE podcast.

Dave Ross on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM

  • Tune in to KIRO Radio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

About the Author

Dave Ross

Dave Ross hosts the Morning News on KIRO Radio weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Dave has won the national Edward R. Murrow Award for writing five times since he started at KIRO Radio in 1978.


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