The owner of a horse that photobombed a contest-winning selfie, snapped by a three-year-old boy of him and his father, is demanding a share of the prize, arguing that the family should have asked her for permission prior to taking the photograph.
As Metro UK first reported, David Bellis and his son Jacob took a photo with the equine while on a walk in a town in North Wales; the animal bared its teeth at that moment to form a comical grin. The pair submitted the image to a “Blue Monday” competition by Thomson Holidays, intended to brighten what some call the most depressing day of the year. The photo won the prize — a £2,000 (~ $2900) holiday voucher — but things went downhill anyway, when the horse owner and neigh-sayer Nicola Mitchell contacted the travel operator to complain that Bellis never received her consent for the photo, which was taken on a public footpath. Messages shaming the family, sent by Mitchell’s friends to Bellis, only made the situation more blue: Jacob apparently got upset and began crying, for fear that his holiday would be cancelled.
Mitchell argued that because her horse Betty had been taught to stick out its tongue, she and her own daughter could have easily won the prize. She demanded “some token of gesture” as compensation.
“I didn’t even know that this competition was on,” Mitchell told Metro UK. “If I had known about it we would have entered it ourselves and could have won as Betty is always sticking out her tongue.”
Mitchell, of course, was beating a dead horse. She had no legitimate legal standing, since Bellis and his son were not trespassing, as an intellectual property lawyer interviewed by local news outlets spelled out.
“As the photographer, Jacob automatically owns copyright in the image and didn’t require permission of the horse’s owner to take the photo – similar to the way that photographers don’t require permission to take pictures of politicians, sports stars, or celebrities when they are out in public,” Cardiff-based lawyer Wayne Beynon told WalesOnline.
Thomson Holidays has since confirmed that Bellis rightfully won the holiday, tweeting the following message:
Despite questions over foal play, Mr Bellis and his family will be getting the £2000 holiday voucher from our #MadeMeSmile competition.
— Thomson (@ThomsonHolidays) February 2, 2016
This isn’t the first time an animal selfie has stirred up drama: in the US last month, a California judge wrapped up a long-standing case over an image taken by an animal itself, a Macaca Nigra, who also presented the world with a wide-toothed grin. In that ruling, the court deemed that animals cannot claim copyright protection under federal law. But as Beynon said, the only issue that could have possibly arisen over copyright in the North Wales case is whether Bellis had received permission from his son to enter the photo in a contest.
“But given that young Jacob is getting a holiday out of it, I guess he’d say he gave consent,” Beynon said.
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