For the first time, the US Copyright Office has made a decision involving selfies taken by animals. It simply declared that photos taken by any animal could not obtain a copyright under the current laws. The same goes for alleged selfies taken by spirits, ghosts, nature, or plants.
The Office said that it can’t allow registration for work that is purportedly created by any supernatural or divine being. But it clarified that it may register a work that is inspired by the divine spirit.
The ruling cited an example that actually happened in 2011. During that year, a photograph of a grinning macaque taken in Indonesia circulated online. Its photographer, David Slater claimed that the picture was actually taken by the monkey herself. He said that the animal picked up his camera and played with it, unintentionally hitting the equipment’s shutter button.
This is a massive victory for open source website Wikimedia, which published the Slater’s photo. The online site has been firm in turning down Slater’s requests to pull out the macaque selfie from its list of available photos for everyone.
The same set of pictures were actually first featured in an Internet-based newspaper. That was where Wikimedia Commons found and picked it up. Wikimedia admitted that it had received requests from Slater to delete the macaque’s selfie from its available lists of contents.
Threat to income
For photographers like Slater, this type of setup that is being upheld by the Copyright Office can threaten their income source. For the same photograph, Slater said it was unfair if it would circulate online for free.
He revealed that taking the monkey’s photos has proven to be an expensive measure for him. Slater emphasized that the photography trip to Indonesia was quite expensive. First, he said the monkey shot cost about $3,000. Second, the equipment that was used cost about $7,000. He also said he spent for insurance and computer programs that were used to process those images.
Slater also revealed that for up to 10,000 images he generate, only one usually makes money. This time, it was that monkey selfie that has the greatest potential to enable him to make money from the photographs he took in the past years. It can be taken away, though, by the government.