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  • Hilary Sumner

Monkey's Selfie Creates Copyright Dispute

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

A photographer shooting wildlife in Indonesia recently left his camera unattended. He returned to find that a crested black macaque had taken a few interesting shots of himself. The photographer released the photos and one of them went viral. When the owner of the camera asked Wikipedia Commons to remove the image from its site, Wiki challenged his copyright ownership.

According to U.S. law, copyright ownership is awarded to the individual who takes the photograph; but does that individual need to be human? U.S. law also prohibits copyright ownership for "materials produced solely by nature, by plants, or by animals." It poses an interesting legal question - who owns the copyright to this image?

UPDATE: According to Section 306 of the Copyright Compendium requiring Human Authorship:

The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants. 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.


A photograph taken by a monkey.

A mural painted by an elephant.

A claim based on the appearance of actual animal skin.

A claim based on driftwood that has been shaped and smoothed by the ocean.

A claim based on cut marks, defects, and other qualities found in natural stone.

An application for a song naming the Holy Spirit as the author of the work.

Similarly, the Office will not register works produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author.”


Reducing or enlarging the size of a preexisting work of authorship.

Making changes to a preexisting work of authorship that are dictated by manufacturing or materials requirements.

Converting a work from analog to digital format, such as transferring a motion picture from VHS to DVD.

Declicking or reducing the noise in a pre-existing sound recording or converting a sound recording from monaural to stereo sound.

Transposing a song from B major to C major.

Medical imaging produced by x-rays, ultrasounds, magnetic resonance imaging, or other diagnostic equipment.

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