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It’s Official: US Regulators Say that Monkey’s Selfie Cannot be Copyrighted

Macaca_nigra_self-portrait_(rotated_and_cropped)The US Copyright Office released the public draft of a new report today on their standards and practices, and buried in the 1,222-page procedural report was the death knell of an amusing but relatively minor copyright issue.

That famous monkey selfie which made the news a few weeks back officially has no copyright. Noting that "The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants", the US copyright office ended the most captivating copyright debate of the year not with a bang but with the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen.

The story of the artistically-inclined macaque first made its way around the web in 2012. According to  David Slater, the British photographer whose camera was "borrowed", the monkey hijacked the camera while the photographer was on a trip to the Indonesian jungle in 2011, and took tons of pictures, including the selfie.

That mischievous monkey also took this photo. I believe Slater is the one on the left:


Noting that Slater had registered the copyright to the selfie in his own name, experts opined at the time that the photos taken by the monkey were probably in the public domain because the creator was a monkey, and thus technically could not claim a copyright.

That opinion was seconded a few weeks ago when Wikimedia, the non-profit behind Wikipedia, revealed that they had declined to remove a copy of the famous selfie which had been uploaded by a user. The organization had received a DMCA notice and after much internal debate decided not to take it down. In their opinion the image was in the public domain.

And now the matter has been settled by the US copyright office – in the US, at least.  According to The Telegraph, there is a clause in that country’s copyright law where the photographer might be able to claim that he owned the copyright:

In the UK, under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, a photographer can claim rights over an image even if he or she did not press the shutter button if the results are their “intellectual creation” – for example, they came up with the concept of a monkey taking a “selfie”.

However, such a case has never been tried in court and the outcome would be uncertain.

This probably won’t help Slater; he has already admitted that the monkey stole the camera without his permission. In short, he didn’t intend to create the circumstances for the monkey to take the photo, so he can’t claim that the monkey was working for him.

Ars Technica

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tubemonkey August 21, 2014 um 8:12 pm

Chalk one up for monkeys.

fjtorres August 21, 2014 um 11:23 pm

His last recourse was claiming the monkey, by using his camera, was "acting as his assistant".
As good as the picture is, its commercial value stems from the "selfie" aspect.
And once he admits he didn’t plan, compose, or post-process the picture… bye-bye copyright.

carmen webster buxton August 22, 2014 um 2:08 am

Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! Does that those elephants that paint pictures are in the same intellectual property boat?

Robin August 22, 2014 um 2:24 am

I understand the logic of the decision. The lawyers are hoping that someone will try to contest it, which will lead to more money in their own pockets.

Laws are drafted by the legal profession in such a convoluted language that there can never be a straight answer. That draft is then handed to the shyster politicians to pass into law. They make a monkey of us all.

Mick Rooney August 22, 2014 um 5:04 am

Grumpy Cat won’t be happy about this!

Felipe Adan Lerma August 22, 2014 um 5:24 am

This is so funny. Loved the picture caption, "That mischievous monkey also took this photo. I believe Slater is the one on the left:" (smiles)

tubemonkey August 22, 2014 um 9:27 am

This is good for evolution. After monkeys master the selfie, we could leave some tablets lying around and they could learn Angry Birds. Then one day, you’ll look at that hairy guy in a business suit standing next to you on the subway reading the Wall Street Journal on his iPad and you’ll suddenly get an apprehensive look on your face as Planet of the Apes pops into your mind.

Gotta wonder what Darwin would say.

Timothy Wilhoit August 22, 2014 um 9:58 am

"Right turn, Clyde!" 😀

Nate Hoffelder August 22, 2014 um 10:12 am

I think you may have explained why beards are coming back in fashion.

puzzled August 22, 2014 um 7:58 pm

Damn! Now I have to lay-off those million monkeys I have working on the back room!

Nate Hoffelder August 22, 2014 um 9:26 pm

If you’re upset, just imagine how those monkeys working on the collected works of Shakespeare must feel. They just learned that all their work was wasted because of US copyright law.

Mick Rooney August 22, 2014 um 9:34 pm

I can see a lot of monkeys putting their manual typewriters up for sale on eBay now, completely disillusioned with what they were promised!

Beautyglife » Judge: Monkey Does Not Own Copyright For Selfie January 8, 2016 um 8:03 am

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