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Monkey Selfie Denied Copyright Protection

An elephant paints a picture at Mae Sa elephant camp to mark Thailand's National Elephant Day in Chiang Mai province, about 700 km (435 miles) north of Bangkok on March 13, 2007. About 70 elephants took part in the event. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

The newest edition of the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices was released last week specifically stating that “the office will not register works produced by nature, animals or plants." This update was made in response to the legal dispute between nature photographer David Slater and the Wikimedia Foundation, which Stuart Brotman explained in The Human Importance of the Monkey Selfie.

Slater was on assignment in Indonesia back in 2011 when a group of monkeys he was photographing hijacked the shoot. An iconic image emerged after one of the macaques took a focused and unusually expressive picture of herself which Wikipedia posted for public use. Wikipedia argued that since the photo was taken by the monkey and not by Slater himself, he did not own the copyright.

The U.S. Copyright Office now provides specific examples of works that are not eligible for copyright protection, including

  • 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, or other qualities found in natural stone
  • an application for a song naming the Holy Spirit as the author of the work

According to the National Journal, the animal examples cited in the updated guidelines are the first major update to the manual in 30 years.

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