No Copyright Protection in a Monkey ‘Selfie’

The U.S. Copyright Office responded to a somewhat unconventional photograph of a female macaque monkey. The Copyright Office stated that “a photograph taken by a monkey” is not eligible for copyright protection.

In 2011, British photographer David J. Slater spent three days in Indonesia to photograph black macaque monkeys. During the three days, a female macaque snatched Slater’s camera and snapped a few pictures. One picture in particular was a macaque smiling into the camera; thus, the first monkey ‘selfie’ was born.

Slater sold the monkey ‘selfie’ to newspapers, magazines, and news websites. After Wikipedia published the photo online for free, Slater claimed that all interest in the photo was lost. He requested that Wikipedia remove the photo, insisting that he owned the rights to the photo. Wikipedia refused and  argued that copyrights only belong to the person taking the photo, and in this case, a person did not take the photo.

The Copyright Office agreed with Wikipedia and stated that“[m]aterials produced solely by nature, by plants, or by animals are not copyrightable.” The term “authorship” implies that its origin must be with a human being to be copyrightable. The “authorship” requirement is nothing new to copyright law, but surely hasn’t been applied to an animal ‘selfie’ until now.

Although the Copyright Office disagrees with Slater, the photographer isn’t “monkeying” around and will likely contest the matter in court. Until then, the photo will continue to amuse fans as the first monkey ‘selfie’ of our time.



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