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Can a Monkey own a Copyright?

In 2011, a black macaques monkey took a “selfie” with a British photographer’s camera. Here is the selfie:

monkey

The picture began to circulate on the internet, which resulted in a copyright dispute between a website posting the picture and the British photographer whose camera was used to take the picture. While the British photographer claimed he owned the copyright to the picture because it was his camera used, the website disagreed and argued that no one owns the pictures because animals cannot own intellectual property nor does the person who owns the camera that was used to take a picture.

A copyright covers original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression like text, videos, recorded sounds, graphics and computer software. Copyrights confer the exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works from, distribute, perform, or display your work.  Copyrights are established when the work is created.  Registration of the work with the US Copyright Office is required to assert infringement and to maintain the option to seek statutory damages.

The end result? The US Copyright Office agreed with the website and has since amended its rules to make it abundantly clear that works created by animals, such as the picture above, will not qualify for copyright protection. Either way, great selfie by the black macaques!

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