The selfie photo craze may just be in our DNA, another step in the evolutionary progression from monkey to man.
Despite man's evolution into a creature with assignable photograph copyright entitlements, that same inalienable right is not bestowed on monkeys of any description, or on animals in general.
This much we know without the benefit of anthropological studies, since the recent adjudication of the photographer vs. Wikimedia battle over ownership of a monkey selfie finds that legally, animals cannot copyright things, so if an animal takes his own picture, that picture becomes public domain.
Whether the monkey can sue for defamation if it doesn't like the way it looks in the picture is probably a nonstarter, since the monkey is solely responsible for the content of the selfie. It is conventional wisdom, after all, that if a monkey looks like a monkey, it acts like one, too.
The crux of the matter is that David Slater, the British photographer who made it possible for an Indonesian Macaca nigra, also called a crested black macaque, to actuate a shutter button and photograph its own simian countenance, believes that he owns the rights (and accompanying royalties) to that photo. At present, Wikimedia, which fancies itself as a proponent of all things public domain, is defending its right to make the photos available to the world, no questions asked -- and winning for now.
Of no help to Slater's cause is the U.S. Copyright Office, which recently released a summary (PDF) of its policies, one of them being that the office only recognizes the work of human beings. The documents explicitly mentions these monkeyshines photos as samples of work that the office cannot deem copyrightable, because monkeys.
"The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals or plants. Likewise, the office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings," wrote the agency.
Other examples of objets d'art the agency specifically mentioned as not copyright-worthy include paintings created by elephants, driftwood that was sculpted by water, and anything created solely by a machine.
On Slater's side is much of the legal community and Slater's representatives, Caters News Agency. No word if Caters has approached the monkey about representation. Some legal minds claim that since Slater's equipment was used and that he set up the equipment in a manner that facilitated the animal's actions, that Slater is the de facto owner of the image.
If usage enters into the legal fray, what will happen when the monkey selfie turns up in an OkCupid profile?
We leave it to you to ponder this well-reasoned argument in defense of Slater's rights:
"These monkey selfies didn't just happen in a vacuum," says Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel of the National Press Photographers Association.