Selfies (self-portrait photographs) appear daily on the Internet. However, you don’t often see them taken by a monkey. There has been a lot of recent press
about the ownership rights associated with a macaque monkey’s “selfie” created with a British photographer’s camera. The monkey allegedly
swiped the photographer’s camera back in 2011 while he was trekking in an Indonesian forest. Wikimedia Commons got a hold of the photo and made it available for free, public use. Arguing that the monkey was akin to his assistant, the photographer claimed that the photo had been misappropriated and that he had lost tens of thousands of dollars in revenue associated with this photograph that went viral.
Rarely does the government react so quickly to resolve private disputes, but on Tuesday, the U.S. Copyright Office updated its Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices
and addressed this very issue. The Office clarified that it “will not register works product by nature, animals or plants. . . Examples: A photograph taken by a monkey….” In case there was any doubt, “[a] mural painted by an elephant” is also not protected.
While it’s generally not advisable to take someone else’s work, for now, the works of the animal kingdom are fair game.