US Copyright Office: We Can’t Register a Monkey Selfie… Or One Taken by a God


In its updated 1,222-page “Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition” released yesterday, the US Copyright Office took the side of Wikimedia in their argument with nature photographer David Slater when the office wrote that they cannot register works by monkeys.

The report, which comes just weeks after Slater seemed to be making plans to take Wikimedia to court, simply specifies the office’s policies regarding federal copyright law, but the fact that the first example of works it will not register is now “A photograph taken by a monkey” sends a pretty clear message to Mr. Slater.

In a video we shared at the beginning of this month (embedded above), Slater argued that he set up the selfie on purpose, in essence staging the shot, and therefore the fact that the monkey pressed the shutter is irrelevant. Because of this, we wouldn’t be surprised if Slater still plans to take Wikimedia to court.

After all, he already knew that copyright law wasn’t on his side in this case. In the video he says that Wikimedia is “guessing” because this has “never been tested.” And while it certainly doesn’t bode well that the US Copyright Office seems to have interpreted the law the same way as Wikimedia, UK law would allow Slater to claim ownership if it was part of his “intellectual creation.”

That, however, has never been tried in court, so the legal system is still Slater’s only recourse if he chooses to pursue this.


Oh, and if you’re curious what other types of works the Copyright Office cannot register, they went well beyond monkey selfies in their list. Other entities that you should ask to keep their stinkin’ paws off your shutter button include: plants, robots, ghosts and ‘divine beings’… although a work ‘inspired by a divine spirit’ may still be registered.

To read the whole shebang for yourself, click here to see the full PDF report.

(via Ars Technica)

  • Alexandra G.

    Get what? that some people are so bored, they’re trying to get animals to take photos now & register them with the US Copyright office?

    This is not a circus…This guy lost his mind…

    “Slater argued that he set up the selfie on purpose, in essence staging the shot, and therefore the fact that the monkey pressed the shutter is irrelevant.”

    He set up the selfie on purpose? as opposed to setting up the shot without a purpose?

    He set up the shot! THE END! When the Monkey sets up the shot, we’ll talk about it.

    This should be dealt with in “Lion’s Court/Den”! Here’s my blog post in response to this non sense:

  • jtan163

    I see you have not managed to address a single one of the chapters and verses from the US Copyright Office Compendium.

    I imagine you are making your arguments in your blog now, because you’ll be able to delete replies with actual facts.

    Except in previous interviews from some time ago, Slater had said that the monkey took the camera when he wasn’t looking and he lost control over it.

    Not relevant anyway, unless you think wedding planners and art directors should get copyright instead of photographers who shoot weddings and commercial work.

  • Alexandra G.

    “WHY” should the monkey own copyright? (or any other animal for that matter?)

    Is the Monkey going to open a gallery now? and sign autographs? is the monkey going to be inducted in some hall of fame and have a star on Hollywood BLVD? That shot is a shot that has been post processed …that shot did not come straight out of the camera, so his involvement didn’t stop at “loosing the camera to the monkey” which sounds very far fetched….How about do it again, and again, so we can see how “accidental” this really is/was.

    The fact that a camera has automatic settings on it doesn’t mean he owns less copyright on that image. Or that the “camera” owns the copyright! That is the dumbest thing I ever heard! The fact that he is trying so hard to prove otherwise is not very smart…on his part, and proves nothing.
    Watch the video and see what happens when you put the camera on a tripod, turn it on, put a subject in front of it, and turn some lights on:
    ALL those who created all those automatic settings forgot to add the one button that can turn the camera on to “TFI”=”Thinking For Itself”

    “What is copyright?
    Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.”

    IF he wants to fight this in some court he will have to register that image, upon registering it it becomes HIS(again), because the monkey cannot have the copyright transferred to being an animal.

    THE ONLY time when photographers CREATE ORPHANED WORKS (that no one can claim copyright on until found IF found) is when they publish images directly onto Facebook:

    …..because once they do that, Facebook removes ALL metadata and changes the file name, so that image automatically joins the pool of unknown works otherwise known as Orphan Works:
    Which ASMP is trying to rectify for a while now, but sadly thanks to misplaced EGO’s they aren’t having much luck.

    “How do I protect my idea?
    Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work.”

    ^^^^^ THIS is usually protected by trademarks/patents. You invent something you get that patented (if it’s worth it)…IF your “idea” is worth it. What is this guy going to patent? throwing a camera at a monkey? “Don’t throw a camera at a monkey because some Brit is going to sue you?” preposterous.

    More here:

    I am not sure how a “wedding planner” could own copyright unless they had the photographer sign a work for hire document…at a wedding a photographer is an independent contractor or LLC, it is a BUSINESS TO BUSINESS SERVICE, (photography is part of the service industry FYI), and not an employee of the bride nor the wedding planner. You don’t sound like you understand that photography is a business…like any other business actually.

    An art director falls in the same category as above. THE ONLY time someone OTHER than the photographer gets the copyright is when the photographs were taken as “work for hire”….Think JC Penney studios…The JC Penney employee taking that photo os you does not own the copyright to that photo JC Penney does (or lifeTouch which is the company that is running those studios) THAT is work for hire. When you get hired by someone ti take photographers you are an independent entity there and NOT their employee, you’re not on their payroll. Please WATCH all these videos:

    More on work for hire here:

    & here:

    What is copyright:

  • jtan163

    You’re a bit silly.
    Elsewhere you’re claiming that the fact Slater had an idea is sufficient to grant him copyright, but the ASMP quote you are quoting contradicts this – which is of course correct.

    If you make the argument that someone who has set up an environment or opportunity for a photo should have copyright – which is what you are saying when you say Slater traveled tot eh location bought his cameras, chose the location etc then it shouldn’t;t be too hard to see how a wedding planner might claim copyright.

    They choose the colour schemes, locations, contractors etc etc etc. For soem weddings the photographer is reduced to the role of the monkey,

    I’ll restate the argument is not that the monkey should have copyright.
    The argument is that Slater should not because he was not the author and did not fix the work.
    It is incumbent n Slater to prove he has the rights, not for wikipedia (or us) to prove he does not.
    That’s how the copyright system works.
    The Author asserts the right.

    Anyway I’ll ask again, can you please answer 2 questions:

    Have you read the US Copyright Compendium in question?

    What has Slater done to deserve copyright that is relevant to the issue of copyright?

  • jtan163

    And by the way you do not have to register a work with the US copyright office to go to court in the US.
    Slater is a British citizen that was shooting in Indonesia.
    But even US citizens shooting int he US don’t nee to register an image.

    However there are benefits to doing so (e.g. higher awards, and lower legal costs).
    So much for your (self vaunted) knowledge of copyright law.

    Seriously read the compendium, you could do with the knowledge.
    You’re quite misinformed.

  • Kallai Iosif Gavril

    The monkey speaks out.


    A Statement from the Monkey


    Monkey feel vindicated that U.S. Copyright Office rule Bad Man ineligible to claim Monkey Selfie as intellectual property. Monkey advised by counsel not to comment while issue being adjudicated, but now that ruling has been issued Monkey grateful to be able to speak out for first time, and perhaps provide valuable context.

    When Monkey snatch camera from Bad Man and run hooting into tall grass, Monkey see it as liberating act of self-expression, and, yes, perhaps even blow against human cultural hegemony. The fact that Monkey not realize at first that camera was camera and try to eat it, irrelevant. Once Monkey recognize that device make clicky sound, Monkey become fascinated. In that moment, Monkey reborn as Artist.

    Monkey not entirely comfortable with camera at first. Monkey know little of lighting or composition. Rule of thirds as strange and distant to Monkey in those first few moments as dark side of big thing in night sky. Monkey shoot countless images of tree canopies and banyan roots, real beginner stuff. Monkey also attempt to use camera as blunt instrument to crack open mangosteen. This just heedlessness. But Monkey learn quick, and after a few hundred exposures, why, Monkey really begin to get hang of thing. (Note to young monkey photographers: film is hard to beat for definition and clarity, but digital really lets novices shoot with abandon, and this the best way to learn.)

    When Monkey get inspired to turn camera and aim lens at face, Monkey not feel Monkey reinventing wheel or anything. It more an evolutionary step. It felt organic, is what Monkey is saying. And Monkey have no idea image would take world by storm, because who did? Monkey simply being in moment, doing what feel right, because this what Artist does. How could Monkey know that image would end up on millions of T-shirts, posters, coffee mugs?

    This really what Monkey want to talk about.

    Monkey have little personal need for human money. Monkey have cool rainwater to drink, abundance of fresh fruit to eat, group to forage and socialize with. Monkey one of four adult males who calls shots in group, so Monkey’s life already pretty sweet. But Monkey also member of critically endangered species, and when the last time you managed to get high-priced lobbyists and P.R. people to take star fruit for payment? Let’s face it: licensing is sweetest plum, and with Monkey Selfie now most popular image on Internet (Monkey have intern from Macaca Nigra Project checking this) Monkey and Monkey’s kind can’t afford to leave money on trees.

    That’s why Monkey announcing today that with intellectual-property dispute settled, Monkey now pivoting to next phase. Monkey’s loan-out corporation immediately filing to copyright Selfie for commercial reuse in all media. Monkey and Monkey’s attorneys fully confident that copyright will be granted in timely manner and intend to protect valuable intellectual property via every legal channel available. Monkey not talking about law of the jungle here, either. Monkey talking about your human law. Because Monkey may have been born in an Indonesian lowland, but he not born in Indonesian lowland yesterday.

    Thank you. Monkey take questions.

  • reservoirdan