A “selfie” of a crested black macaque with a wide, toothy grin can’t be copyrighted because an animal snapped the photo rather than a human, according to the U.S. Copyright Office.
A draft Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices released this month by the Copyright Office includes a revised section detailing the human authorship requirement. www.copyright.gov/comp3/. The Compendium provides examples in which the Copyright Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants—as well as works purportedly created by “divine or supernatural beings.” They include “a photograph taken by a monkey,” “a mural painted by an elephant,” and “an application for a song naming the Holy Spirit as the author of the work.”
The macaque took its self-portrait in 2011 when wildlife photographer David Slater was traveling in Indonesia. According to various published reports, curious monkeys got ahold of one of his cameras and started snapping hundreds of photographs. The best image, which depicts a macaque staring directly into the camera, was published by The Guardian, the Huffington Post, and eventually Wikimedia Commons, a depository of free online images.
The photograph received a flurry of attention in recent weeks after Wikimedia refused Slater’s request to have it removed. Although Slater claimed he owned the photo, Wikipedia refused his request, noting that because the photo was taken by an animal, it had no human author and was thus not copyrightable.