August 22, 2014
US Officials Rule That Monkey Selfies Cannot Be Copyrighted
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Bad news for the British photographer who allowed a curious monkey to take a selfie using his equipment – or, indeed, any of us looking to allow wild animals to borrow our smartphones or cameras to take self-portraits – US officials have issued new rules declaring that the images cannot be copyrighted.
In a recent update to its regulations, the US Copyright Office has ruled that it “will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants,” and that it “cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings.” It even goes on to list a series of examples, the first of which specifically states that “a photograph taken by a monkey” could not be copyrighted by the agency.
The ruling effectively closes the book on an intellectual property debate between David Slater, the UK photographer whose camera was recently used by a curious crested black macaque living in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi to snap a picture of herself, and Wikimedia Commons, which argued that the image should be considered public domain and not Slater’s property.
“Slater insists he owns the rights to the image of a monkey staring curiously into the camera as he snapped a selfie, and the photographer claims he’s suffered considerable expense to secure the photos,” explained Abby Phillip of the Washington Post. “The fact that they have been, essentially, distributed for free on the Internet through the Wikimedia Commons Web site has cost him untold amounts of money.”
Slater told Phillip on Wednesday that the free distribution of the photo was “ruining my business,” that if it was “a normal photograph and I had claimed I had taken it, I would potentially be a lot richer than I am.” When the photograph first appeared on Wikimedia Commons in 2012, he requested that it be taken down, and the website complied. However, it would later be re-added by another user, and this time it would remain online.
Slater had reportedly been planning to take Wikimedia to court for refusing to comply with his request to remove the photos, claiming it had cost him royalties, said Engadget’s Mariella Moon. The Copyright Office’s ruling that animal-created content cannot be registered as the intellectual property of a human is a clear victory for Wikipedia, added Mashable’s Jason Abbruzzese.
Hundreds of photos were taken by a critically endangered macaque that had swiped Slater’s camera when the wildlife photographer visited Indonesia in 2011, said Los Angeles Times reporter Lauren Raab. The animal, which is well known for their pinkish rear-ends and the punkish tufts of head hair, ended up pushing the shutter button repeatedly.
In claiming ownership of the photos, Slater had argued that the monkey should be viewed as his assistant, Raab added. Wikimedia Foundation’s Chief Communications Officer Katherine Maher countered that the picture’s copyright belonged to the person who took the picture – which, as mentioned earlier, was not a person at all in this instance.
“Monkeys don’t own copyrights. What we found is that US copyright law says that works that originate from a non-human source can’t claim copyright,” Maher told Phillip, explaining that Slater would have had to make “substantial changes” to the photos and not just cosmetic ones in order to have a valid copyright claim on the finished product.
“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,” she added. The Copyright Office apparently agrees, placing the macaque selfies in the same categories as claiming ownership of a mural that was painted by an elephant.