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The Next Time Your Pet Takes a Selfie...

It has been two years since British nature photographer David Slater first asked Wikimedia Commons to remove several photos of a crested black macaque from its online collection of public domain images (the images can be viewed here). Slater claimed to own the copyright in the photos, some of which show the monkey staring directly into the camera and grinning in a very human way.

Wikimedia took the position that Slater did not own the copyright to the photos because they were “selfies” taken by the monkey itself when Slater momentarily left the photo shoot site, and his camera, unattended. And since monkeys can’t own copyrights, Wikimedia maintained that it was free to keep the photos on its website.

The photos continue to appear on the Wikimedia website to date, and they likely won’t be going anywhere soon. On August 19, 2014 the U.S. Copyright Office released its “Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices” that makes it clear that only works created by a human being are protected by copyright. It also goes so far as to provide examples of the types of works that would not be subject to copyright protection—including “a photograph taken by a monkey.”

The public draft is not final, so there may still be arguments to be made by Slater, who is reportedly seeking legal counsel to dispute ownership of the photos and his right to compensation for Wikimedia’s unauthorized publication of the photos. Until then, it seems that the U.S. Copyright Office is working to put an end to this monkey business.

The take-away? Next time your pug wants to take a selfie, push the button for him. 

© 2019 Sterne Kessler

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About this Author

Monica Riva Talley, Trademark Attorney, Sterne Kessler, Law Firm
Director

Monica Talley brings more than 17 years of experience protecting some of the world's most recognizable brands to her role as a Director in the firm’s Trademark practice.  Ms. Talley specializes in strategic trademark counseling and portfolio management, developing anti-counterfeiting solutions and strategies, and trademark enforcement. 

Ranked as one of the leading trademark prosecution and strategy attorneys in Washington, DC, Ms. Talley is particularly noted for her global brand protection and commercialization strategies, and is lauded by clients for utilizing “her broad IP savvy...

202-772-8688
Tracy-Gene Durkin, Mechanical Patent Trademark Attorney, Sterne Kessler law firm
Director

Ms. Durkin leads the Mechanical Patent and Trademark Group.  With over twenty years of experience obtaining and enforcing intellectual property rights, she melds her expertise with utility and design patents, trademarks, and copyrights to create a unique IP protection strategy to meet her clients' individual needs.  Ms. Durkin’s experience includes helping clear new products and trademarks for use in the marketplace, selecting appropriate IP protection, and enforcing such protection through mediation, litigation and licensing.  She is sought out for her knowledge of design patents, brand development strategies and eliminating copycat consumer products from the marketplace to prevent the devaluation of IP rights

202-772-8660
Ivy Clarice Estoesta, Mechanical Design Attorney, Sterne Kessler Law Firm
Associate

Ms. Estoesta is an associate in the Mechanical and Design practice group at Sterne Kessler.  Ms. Estoesta’s practice focuses on trademarks, design patents, and copyrights.  Her legal experience, which began at the firm, and academic background provide her a multidimensional perspective in securing comprehensive IP rights for an array of clients in various industries, including pharmaceuticals, dietary food and beverages, footwear, electronic devices, and household cleaning products.

Ms. Estoesta joined the firm in 2006 as a legal assistant in...

202-772-8686
Julie D. Shirk, Patent & Trademark Specialist, Sterne Kessler Law Firm
Patent & Trademark Specialist

Julie D. Shirk joined Sterne Kessler in 1989 and continues to specialize in patents and trademarks in the firm's Mechanical Group.

202-772-8632