TECH

Monkeys, Ghosts And The Ocean 'Cannot Claim US Copyright'

22/08/2014 10:26 BST | Updated 22/08/2014 10:59 BST

What do ghosts, monkeys, elephants and the Holy Spirit have in common?

None of them can claim copyright in America.

That's according to the US Copyright Office, who were effectively forced to issue a clarification after a brouhaha involving Wikipedia, a monkey and photographer David Slater.

Slater claimed that a picture taken by a monkey in Indonesia in 2011, but with his camera, was legally his property as a copyright image. But Wikipedia claimed that it was fair game for distribution under public domain/fair use, since Slater hadn't taken the image.

This specific issue is still going through the courts, with Slater having reportedly already spent $17,000 to reclaim the rights.

But the US Copyright Office's statement appears to back up Wikipedia's general claim - which is that monkeys can't own pictures.

The paper clarifies that photos, songs, novels or any other media by a human can be copyrighted. But it gives examples of things which can't - and it's quite illuminating.

Some of the examples, collated by Gizmodo, include:

  • Photos taken by monkeys
  • "An application for a song naming the Holy Spirit as the author of the
  • work."
  • Lists of ingredients
  • "A claim based on driftwood that has been shaped and smoothed by
  • the ocean"
  • A mural painted by an elephant.
  • A claim based on the appearance of actual animal skin.
  • Exact copies of existing paintings
  • Lists of an author's stories
  • Public domain photos with additional slogans
  • Single notes recorded without adornment
  • Images of food on a plate without a "minimal level of creativity"
  • "Medical imaging produced by x-rays, ultrasounds, magnetic resonance imaging, or other diagnostic equipment."

Meanwhile in the UK it remains possible under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 198 for a photographer to claim rights to a picture even when they did not press the shutter, if they had a significant creative influence over the work - though this has not been tested in court.