Regulators: No one can copyright animal selfies, not even monkeys


Not the monkey selfie in dispute. Nor, really, a selfie. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The U.S. Copyright Office is weighing in on an important question of our time: who owns the copyright for the infamous monkey selfie.

In the first major revision of copyright practices in more than 20 years, the office said works created by animals belong in the public domain.

“The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants,” the office said in a draft of its compendium of U.S. copyright office practices. “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.”

Fortunately or unfortunately depending on what side you’re on in this debate, that includes monkey selfies.

Also: elephant murals, songs created by the “holy spirit.”

The Wikimedia Foundation touched off a debate over the issue when it revealed earlier this month that its lawyers believed that a British photographer David Slater did not have any copyright claims to a remarkable selfie taken by a crested black macaque (Macaca nigra) in an Indonesian forest in 2011.

Slater had battled with the organization and its community moderators to remove the viral photo from its Wikimedia Commons database, an online collection of media available for use by the public.

In an interview with the Washington Post this month, Slater said he was pursuing legal action in the U.S. and in Britain. Part of his claim includes his contention that the original photo is substantially different from the version that has been popularized in viral stories since 2011. Few people, save for his lawyers, have seen the original image taken by the monkey in that forest.

Copyright law deals with “transformations” of works differently, so it is unclear how this draft revision might complicate Slater’s efforts to litigate the issue in court.

Slater has not yet responded to a request for comment.

The draft, released on Tuesday, will be available for public comment for 120 days. It is expected to become final around Dec. 15, 2014.

(h/t: Ars Technica)

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Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com. On Twitter: @abbydphillip
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