U.S. Copyright Office rules monkeys can’t copyright their selfies

BY Diane Jeanty  August 21, 2014 at 5:02 PM EST

Turns out this photo, taken by a monkey, is not protected under a new U.S. copyright law.

Turns out this photo, taken by a monkey, is not protected under a new U.S. copyright law.

In its first revision in over two decades, the U.S. Copyright Office has published a new draft update to its existing rules regarding ownership of photographs, text and art, stating that non-human beings cannot own copyright.

The changes come in the wake of Wikimedia Commons’ controversial refusal to take down a self-portrait taken by an crested black macaque, an Indonesian monkey, that has since gone viral.

British wildlife photographer David Slater claimed copyright of the photo because the macaque had taken the photograph with one of his cameras while on a shoot in Indonesia in 2011. His request was denied; Wikimedia claimed U.S. law supported that “copyright cannot vest in non-human authors.”

Since the dispute, Slater has sought legal counsel and has claimed the photo has cost him thousands of dollars.

The new rules published Thursday now explicitly supports Wikimedia’s claim that works produced by “nature, animals or plants,” and any work created by “divine or supernatural beings” cannot claim copyright.

The rules continue to list examples such as:

- A photograph taken by a monkey.
- A mural painted by an elephant.
- A claim based on driftwood that has been shaped and smoothed by
the ocean.
- A claim based on cut marks, defects and other qualities found in
natural stone.
- An application for a song naming the Holy Spirit as the author of the
work.

The draft will remain on review until mid-December when it will then be official law.