The US Copyright Office has just issued a draft of a massive update to its practices guide, and some of its updated information couldn't be more timely. By now, you've probably heard of the battle that ensued between a photographer and Wikimedia over a photo that a female macaque took herself. The photographer believed he was within his rights to establish a copyright on the resulting photos, whereas Wikimedia believed that the monkey owned the photo.
USCO's views don't entirely align with either stance, but things are cleared up in a new section of the guide entitled "The Human Authorship Requirement". Part of it states: "Because copyright law is limited to 'original intellectual conceptions of the author,' the Office will refuse to register a claim if it determines that a human being did not create the work."
But first, let me take a selfie!
The section goes on to explain that the agency will not register works produced by nature, animals, plants, or through divine or supernatural spirits (no, I'm not making that up). It also gives a couple of specific examples of works it would not recognize, such as "A photograph taken by a monkey" (which is very subtle), "A mural painted by an elephant", "A claim based on the appearance of actual animal skin", and the same idea for rocks and driftwood worked on by nature.
The fact that the USCO won't recognize an animal selfie with a copyright is pretty major, as that rules out people being able to copyright any resulting works from handing their camera or mobile device to an animal on purpose with the intent of monetary gain. It seems likely that not everyone will agree with this idea.
This area of copyright isn't the only one that the updated guide tackles, so if you're feeling a bit ambitious, feel free to pore over the 1,222 pages that await.