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29 August 2014 0 Comments
Posted in Opinion, Technology & media

No Copyright for Animals, Ghosts or God

Author headshot image Posted by , Partner

In a rare update to the US Copyright Office’s (USCO) guidance, which was last amended 30 years ago, the Office said that an animal, ghost or God cannot have their ‘work’ registered for copyright.

A statement issued by USCO said that 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 states that the work was inspired by a divine spirit.

The ruling came about following the debate over who has copyright over a ‘selfie’ taken by a monkey after British photographer David Slater came across a crested black macaque during a trip through an Indonesian national park.

The monkey ended up taking a photo using Mr Slater’s camera, which later appeared on Wikimedia’s database of free photos for public use. However, Mr Slater demanded the photo be taken down, saying it was his photo but his claim was disputed by Wikimedia, and the new rules from the USCO appear to support their stance.

The rules even use the example of “a photograph taken by a monkey” as an example of work that would not be covered by copyright, as well as a mural painted by an elephant and driftwood shaped and smoothed by the ocean.

The law governing animals producing copyrightable works is similar in the UK to the US and the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) agrees that, under UK law, animals cannot own copyright.

The question as to whether the photographer owns copyright is more complex, as it depends on whether he or she has made a creative contribution to the work, which is a decision that can only be made by the courts. At UK law the first owner of copyright is the ‘author’ of the work; the person who created it. This can include a corporation or a partnership but obviously not an animal. To create a copyright work the author must have expended some skill or labour in the compilation of the work. That must depend on the facts in each case.

The intention behind intellectual property rights is to protect and reward those who bring their minds to the task of creating something and mere mechanical labour, such as recording the thoughts of others or perhaps flicking a switch on apparatus set up and positioned artistically by another, will not suffice.

If you have any concerns or issues about whether you or another enjoy copyright protection in a design or other work and wish to know what rights you or they might have then contact Stephen Welfare, head of the Intellectual Property Unit at Royds solicitors; sbw@royds.com.

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