Monkeys Can't Get a Copyright

Wikimedia via a Macaca Nigra

If a monkey takes a selfie, it does not qualify for copyright protection in the U.S., even if the monkey's skills rival those of Kim Kardashian. The same goes for portrait-painting elephants.

In the newest edition of the office's guidelines released Tuesday, the U.S. Copyright Office is crystal-clear that only humans qualify for copyright protection.

"The copyright law only protects 'the fruits of intellectual labor' that 'are founded in the creative powers of the mind,' " the U.S. Copyright Office writes in the first major update to the manual in 30 years. "The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants."

Ghosts and their brethren are similarly out of luck. "The Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural being," the new update states.

The "human author" requirement is not a new addition, but the animal example is new and relates to the ongoing dispute between Wikimedia, the nonprofit behind Wikipedia, and British photograph David Slater over who owns the rights to a photo taken by an animal.

The dispute dates back to 2011 when Slater's camera was hijacked by a group of impish macaques during visit to Indonesia. The mischievous monkeys took dozens of photos, but one gem emerged: a focused self-portrait of a grinning female monkey.

Wikimedia added the photo to its royalty-free commons, and denied Slater's request to take it down on the grounds that an image taken by an animal is "uncopyrightable."

The Copyright Office deliberately added real-life examples to the new edition with the goal of avoiding confusion, according to Bill Roberts, acting associate register of copyrights and director of the office of public information.

The 2,000-plus-page manual, called the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, is not law but rather a set of guidelines the office uses to decide whether to add something to the federal register. It is important because it lifts the veil on how the office makes its decision. The newest update aims to address the changes to copyright in the digital age.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.