US Copyright Office Gets it Right
A few weeks ago, the Internet was filled with links to some photographs taken by a monkey. Photographer David Slater had set up a camera in the cage of some black-crested macaques, and one of the fun-loving creatures used it to take several pictures – including a series of “selfies.” After the selfies were posted on a web site, Mr. Slater claimed ownership of the photos and asked that they be removed from the site. Thus began the debate – who owned the copyright on those photos? Mr. Slater? The macaque? Anyone? No one?
The US Copyright Office saw an issue in need of attention. It set its experts to thinking hard, and produced a public draft of additions to its internal practices – the policies that tell the examiners in the office how to decide issues. The new policy clearly states that copyrights will only be recognized in new works created by human beings.
This decision by the US Copyright Office is a blow to some animal rights activists, who had hoped to establish that if a monkey had creativity and created a work of art then it should legally own the copyright to that art. The Office expressed a resounding “NO” to that line of thinking.
But what about Mr. Slater? Since he set up the camera for the monkey to use, should he own the copyright in the photos? Apparently not – he did not create the work of art. He only created the environment in which the work of art was created. In the terms used in the movie industry, he was more of a producer than an artist, so he does not own the copyright either. In other words, we have a new classification of art – animal created art – in which no copyright exists.