Copyright Law

Monkey selfies do not qualify for copyright protection, US regulators say


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Monkey selfie in dispute from Wikimedia Commons.

Ape rights will have to wait until the day they take over the Earth, like in Planet of the Apes.

The Telegraph reported Thursday that the U.S. Copyright Office announced that it will not issue copyrights to any picture taken by a nonhuman. The Copyright Office issued updated rules and regulations earlier in the week that spelled out its policy on copyright protections in the digital age.

“The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals or plants,” the public draft of the new regulations read. “Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings.” The Office gave several specific examples of things that could not be copyrighted under this section, such as a mural painted by an elephant, a song authored by the Holy Spirit and a photograph taken by a monkey.

According to the National Journal, Bill Roberts, acting associate register of copyrights and director of the office of public information, said the Copyright Office deliberately added real-life examples in order to avoid confusion.

The example of the monkey taking a picture refers, specifically, to a selfie taken by a monkey in 2011 that has become part of a legal tug-of-war between British nature photographer David Slater and Wikimedia Commons. Slater argued that he owns the copyright to all photos taken during his trip to Indonesia, including photos from when a monkey grabbed his camera and took several hundred pictures of himself and other things around him because he liked the sound the camera made. Wikimedia Commons, however, had insisted on distributing the photos for free, arguing that Slater did not own the copyright because he hadn’t taken the pictures.

“Monkeys don’t own copyrights,” Wikimedia Foundation’s chief communications officer Katherine Maher told the Washington Post earlier this month. “So what we found was that if the photographer doesn’t have copyright, and the monkey doesn’t have copyright, then there’s no one to bestow the copyright upon.”

The Telegraph reports that the guidelines will remain under review until Dec. 15 or so, after which they will officially take effect.

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