No, Monkey Selfies Cannot Be Copyrighted

Selfie taken by a crested black macaque on David Slater's camera.
Selfie taken by a crested black macaque on David Slater's camera.

Crushing news for the world’s aspiring animal artists: the US Copyright Office has ruled that photographs taken by animals, including selfies, cannot be copyrighted, reports Slate.

The issue came to the office’s attention when British photographer David Slater accused the Wikimedia Foundation of violating his copyright by posting a self-portrait taken by a monkey who hijacked his camera during a trip to Indonesia in its selection of public domain works.

Here’s the official ruling as handed down by the Copyright Office:

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, although the Office may register a work where the application or the deposit copy(ies) state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit.

Examples:
• A photograph taken by a monkey.
• A mural painted by an elephant.
• A claim based on the appearance of actual animal skin.
• A claim based on driftwood that has been shaped and smoothed by the ocean.
• A claim based on cut marks, defects, and other qualities found in natural stone.

This seems like trouble for the work of successful animal painters, such as Metro the horse, who has his own line of designer handbags.

The ruling also has problematic implications, the Art Law Blog points out. “Imagine a photographer whose work is to leave a camera in a room with various animals and waits for them to press the shutter, or perhaps sets up tripwires in the room that causes the camera to shoot. It’s not so obvious to me that the photographer shouldn’t own the copyright in the resulting photos in that situation.”


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