US Copyright Office: A Monkey Can’t Own a Selfie, You Guys

The selfie-taking crested black macaque.
The selfie-taking crested black macaque. –Wikimedia Commons

In a copyright battle for the ages, today it was confirmed that a selfie-happy Indonesian jungle primate is costing a British nature photographer untold amounts of money. Weeks after the internet erupted into a debate over whether or not a monkey owns the now famous selfie it took on British nature photographer David Slater’s camera, the U.S. Copyright Office weighed in.

Of course the monkey doesn’t own the image, they said. But neither does Slater.

A new 1200-page third edition of their Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices asserts that “a photo taken by a monkey,’’ “a mural painted by an elephant,’’ and “driftwood that has been shaped and smoothed by the ocean’’ are all “produced by nature’’ and therefore cannot be copyrighted.


Slater is probably not too happy considering two weeks ago he announced he was seeking legal counsel in both the US and Britain to dispute his right to compensation for the image’s widespread use and availability on the free content site Wikimedia commons.

“This is ruining my business,’’ the photographer told The Washington Post. “If it was a normal photograph and I had claimed I had taken it, I would potentially be a lot richer than I am.’’

Slater reportedly claimed to be very much in debt and said that he had selected and edited the few pristine images out of hundreds of photos that the animal took.

Wikimedia previously said they ignored Slater’s requests to remove the image from their database because the monkey snapped the photos when he left his camera unattended, making it the rightful owner. Slater reportedly began asking for the removal of the photos in early 2012, but it seems the Wikimedia Commons image is here to stay.

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