Works created by nature, animals or plants cannot be claimed by humans, according to the new US Copyright Office rules compendium. Humans cannot claim rights to works such as monkey selfies, murals painted by elephants, driftwood formed by the ocean, or stones shaped by their environment.

The ruling came about as a result of a conflict over selfie photos taken by a monkey that had stolen the camera of a nature photographer. In 2011, the camera of British photographer David Slater was stolen by a macaque, and the monkey took a photo that went viral on the internet.

When the macaque’s selfie was uploaded to Wikipedia, Slater requested the online encyclopedia take down the image, claiming copyright. Wikipedia denied the request, and claimed that the photo was un-copyrightable because it was not taken by a human.

Slater argued that he did in fact own copyright to the image because he owned the equipment and was responsible for setting the equipment up.

In the latest copyright law compendium, the US Copyright Office specified that works created by animals or other nature as well as works purportedly or stated to have been created by divine or supernatural beings could not be registered.

The publication included a section called “The Human Authorship Requirement,” which provided that the US Copyright Office would only register original works created by human beings.

The basis of the ruling lies in copyright law protection for “the fruits of intellectual labor” that are “founded in the creative powers of the mind.” The copyright office noted that only “original conceptions of the author” could be granted copyright.

“The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants,” the publication stated. “Likewise, 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(ies) state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit.”

The publication explicitly mentioned photographs taken by monkeys, murals painted by elephants, claims based on the appearance of actual animal skin, claims based on driftwood formed by the ocean, claims based by the features of stone created by nature, and songs naming the Holy Spirit as the author or the work.

By Sid Douglas