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Copyright Office: You Can’t Copyright Work By Monkeys Or Gods


New guidelines released by the U.S. Copyright Office have finally clarified the confusion: monkeys cannot apply for copyright protection in the United States, Government Executive reports.

The controversy stems from the ability of some monkeys to apparently be able to take a selfie with the same precision as a human, but the reason for denying copyright protection is more technical. What is protected, according to the first major update of Copyright Office (UCO) guidelines in 30 years, is intellectual labor powered by the mind. “The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants,” said the updated guidelines.

Moreover, the minds cannot be unembodied souls or supernatural entities, as the UCO is skeptical of verifying the identities of such divine beings. “The Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural being,” the guidelines state.

A need for clarification between human and animal began in 2011, when photographer David Slater had his camera stolen by monkeys, who then used it to take a multitude of photos, including a female monkey taking a self-portrait. Slater accused Wikimedia, the non-profit which runs Wikipedia, of violating copyright laws when it hosted and displayed the photo, but Wikimedia shot back that photos taken by animals cannot be copyrighted.

The manual which the UCO uses in making decisions is over 2,000 pages with a list of real-world examples, in order to avoid messy legal situations arising in the digital age. The Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices does not count as legislation, but it is used internally by the UCO to determine what can pass into the federal register and what cannot, according to Bill Roberts, acting associate register of copyrights and director of the office of public information.

Now, thanks to a group of monkeys in Indonesia, official copyright practices are at least slightly less opaque.

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