US regulators: No copyright for monkey selfies

DEREK ROSE
Last updated 12:06 22/08/2014
monkey selfie
WHO'S A PRETTY BOY?: The self-portrait as it appears on the Wiki Commons site.

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Sorry monkeys - you can't copyright your photographs. Neither can vegetables or divine spirits.

Weighing in on the so-called ''monkey selfie'' controversy, the US Copyright Office has declared in a draft of its compendium of copyright practices that it will only register works by human beings.

It all relates to controversy that started when a crested black macaque hijacked British photographer David Slater's camera while he was photographing endangered primates on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in 2011.

As the photo went viral it was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, a sister site to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. Slater asked for it to be taken down - but the site refused, saying that since a monkey took the photo, he didn't own the copyright.

"The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants,'' the copyright office said in its decision. "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."

The Copyright Office singled out photographs taken by monkeys, murals painted by elephants and songs said to be authored by the Holy Spirit as examples of things it wouldn't register. It said US copyright law protects only ''the fruits of intellectual labor [sic]" that "are founded in the creative powers of the mind''.

This might not be the end of the monkey business, however. Slater told the Washington Post this month that part of his claim is that the original photo - which few people have seen - is substantially different from the photo that went viral. Copyright law deals with "transformative works" differently, so Slater might still have a case.

Wikimedia said on August 8 that its users would have a week to vote on whether to take down the monkey selfie, and apparently they decided against removing it, as the photo is still available on the site.

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