Arthur R. Lehman, L.L.C.

Can a monkey own a copyright?

Copyright issues span a gamut of scenarios brought before the court in an effort to assign and protect authorship. With society utilizing more technology and creativity in its pursuits, there is often collaboration between humans and non-humans to produce a final work.

As a result, new questions are arising when determining who deserves the credit for work and how much credit ought to be given. This gray area of copyright laws involves the contribution of artificial intelligence and animals to creative endeavors.

Monkey selfie

Recent news reported a copyright lawsuit filed against a photographer and an animal rights group. The photographer left his camera setup and ready to use in a jungle habitat known to have macaque monkeys. The monkeys began curiously pushing buttons on the camera, snapping photos of themselves. As a result, the photographer published a book showcasing these monkey selfies.

Court ruling

Although the animal rights group argued the copyright of the photos belonged to the monkey, there had to be a compromise for the final ruling. It was determined that a monkey cannot own a copyright because:

  • Copyrights are protected for individuals and businesses that produce creative works through intentional mental systems and techniques.
  • A monkey cannot sign legal documents or decide on whom to grant heir ship after death.

The legal agreement that ensued included the photographer paying up to 25 percent of royalties towards protecting the macaque monkey habitat and the animal rights group canceling their appeal.

Finding clarity in copyrights

Understanding the laws protecting "original works of authorship" is essential when you have any inclination that these rights are violated. Taking steps to ensure your creative works are protected simply begins with gathering information on how copyrights are determined and the relevant laws associated with each type of infringement.

Do you think humans should share copyrights with animals or artificial intelligence? Or is this all just monkey business?

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