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Monkey 'selfie' copyright issue settled

Friday - 8/22/2014, 9:51am  ET

monkey selfie (Caters News Agency)
David Slater, from Coleford, Gloucestershire, was taking photos of macaques on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in 2011 when the animals began to investigate his equipment. A black crested macaque appeared to be checking out its appearance in the lens and it wasn't long before it hijacked the camera and began snapping away. WTOP purchased the right to use the photo before the U.S. Copyright Office revised its regulations. (Caters News Agency)

WASHINGTON -- The copyright debate about a monkey taking a selfie has been decided by the U.S. Copyright Office, and content produced by animals can't be registered.

In an 21-page update to its regulations, the U.S. Copyright Office writes:

"The U.S. Copyright Office will register an original work of authorship, provided that the work was created by a human being."

The update, made on Aug. 19, specifically cites two animal examples -- a photograph taken by a monkey and a mural painted by an elephant.

"The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants. Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings, although the Office may register a work where the application or the deposit copy(ies) state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit."

In the monkey case, the ownership of a selfie taken by a black macaque had been a topic of a heated debate.

British photographer David Slater claimed he owned the photo the macaque took. He demanded that Wikimedia Commons, a database of free photos for public use, take down the photo.

Wikimedia Commons claimed it had the right to the photo because it was taken by the macaque.

In this case, Wikiemedia won the ownership debate.

In addition to animals, the U.S. Copyright Office says copyrights also cannot be registered for "works produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author."

The copyright rules cite reducing the noise in a preexisting sound recording, transposing a song from B major to C major and X-rays as as examples of works produced by a machine or a mechanical process.

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