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Can a Monkey own a Copyright?

Posted by John M. Burke, Esq. | Sep 04, 2014 | 0 Comments

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


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!

About the Author

John M. Burke, Esq.

John M. Burke manages the firm’s Maine Cannabis Law practice. Mr. Burke advises and represents the firm’s clients throughout Maine in both the Medical and Adult Use cannabis programs in a wide range of Maine cannabis law matters. In addition to Mr. Burke’s Maine cannabis law practice, Mr. Burke advises and assists the firm’s clients in a variety of industries on various intellectual property matters throughout the United States.


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