The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed that the Batmobile is copyrightable and that an individual who made and sold replicas of it is liable for infringement.
I was indescribably relieved upon returning from my summer vacation to discover that we have not yet finished discussing the Monkey Selfie. No bona fide copyright lawyer could possibly want to see an end to this dispute. You can imagine my joy, then, when both the Copyright Office *and* the monkey himself (herself?) recently weighed in on the issue.
The Copyright Office issued a draft of the Compendium of Copyright Office Practices (3rd ed.) on August 19. The Compendium – a monumental undertaking – documents and explains Copyright Office practice and procedure, including with respect to registering claims to copyright. Chapter 300 addresses “Copyrightable Authorship: What Can Be Registered.” At Section 306, the Copyright Office clearly states, “The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals or plants. . . . Examples: A photograph taken by a monkey.”
Bananas! The monkey says. Perhaps counseled by the Cave Man Lawyer (h/t @boothsweet), and apparently having learned English from Cookie Monster, the monkey has his own highly entertaining views on the matter, which you can read here.
To the delight of copyright lawyers everywhere, yesterday the infamous Monkey Selfie debate of 2011 revived itself in the wake of a transparency report issued by Wikimedia revealing that the organization refused a request by photographer David Slater to remove the photo from Wikimedia Commons. Slater traveled to Indonesia in 2011 to photograph macaque monkeys. By Slater’s own account, a monkey grabbed one of his cameras and began snapping photos, including this one . Slater apparently licensed the image for distribution, and later discovered that it had been uploaded to the Wikimedia Commons database. He demanded that Wikimedia remove the image, and the organization refused on the ground that Slater did not create the image himself and therefore does not own copyright in it. Slater’s demand, and Wikimedia’s refusal, came to light when the organization issued its transparency report. Copyright Twitter feeds everywhere immediately lit up like a Christmas tree.
Under U.S. copyright law, the author of a work is the one who created it. In wonky copyright terms, it is the person who fixed an original expression in a tangible medium. Here, Slater has publicly admitted that he did not create the photograph; the monkey. The United States Copyright Office takes the position that only human beings can be “authors.” Animals need not apply. Accordingly, this gives rise to the somewhat unusual situation where there appears to be no author as a matter of law, and thus no copyright ownership.
Of course, U.S. copyright law generally does not apply extraterritorially, and the image in question was created in Indonesia. Although both countries are signatories to the Berne Convention, which requires member nations to give each others’ nationals equal treatment under copyright law, the question of who owns the copyright in the image in the first instance may be governed by Indonesian law.
Slater has reportedly consulted with a U.S. attorney, and is supposedly considering pursuing an infringement action.