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It's Official: You Can't Copyright a Selfie Taken By a Monkey

Guest Writer
3 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We all take pictures. Many of us share those pictures with friends and loved ones and colleagues and countless other types of connections via social media.

But what happens when a nature photographer goes into the jungle, and his camera is hijacked by a macaque that uses it to snap a selfie which the photographer shares on social media. It goes viral. Who owns the copyright to the image?

The photographer? Or the monkey?

Related: Meet the Algorithm That Can Predict Your Photo's Popularity Before You Post It

Yes, this sounds like a ridiculous question but somehow it is very real. And U.S. copyright regulators have something to say about it.

The whole debate started when photojournalist David Slater traveled to Indonesia in 2011 for a shoot, and his camera was snatched away by an enterprising monkey who proceeded to take, in Slater's estimate, "hundreds of pictures."

"Not very many were in focus," he told The Telegraph in 2011, explaining the incident. "He obviously hadn't worked that out yet."

One image was in focus though -- an admirably shot selfie -- and the snapshot went viral. Slater, hoping to make some money from the image, insisted that he owned the rights and could collect royalties. His basic argument: While the monkey snapped the photo, he did all the preparatory work. Wikimedia, the U.S. organization that owns Wikipedia, thought otherwise, arguing that a person can't own the rights to a photo taken by a monkey.

It appears the U.S. Copyright Office is siding with Wikimedia. As discovered by Ars Technica, buried in a 1,222-page federal copyright law draft report is this illuminatory gem: "The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants."

Related: Protect Your Original Work From Copycats With Copyrights

There we have it, folks. If "nature" snaps a photo -- be it via animal or plant -- you're out of luck.

Helpfully, the draft report also clarifies that "the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings." That means alleged alien or angel selfies are also out, "although the Office may register a work where the application or the deposit copy state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit."

According to The Telegraph, Slater, who is a British citizen, may have better luck in his home country. Apparently in the United Kingdom, a photographer can claim copyright of an image if he or she came up with the concept, even if the shutter was pressed by someone -- or, presumably, something -- else.

Related: A (Good) Picture Is Worth a Thousand (Text-Only) Posts

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