Amy M. Lavine – Apologies to all the monkeys and ghosts out there, but copyrights are for humans

The law is pretty settled nowadays that copyright protection only attaches to works of art created by human beings. PETA tried to test this rule recently when it filed litigation claiming that a monkey who used a photographer’s camera to take a selfie was entitled to copyright in the image, rather than the photographer, who merely supplied the camera. Despite the arguments about sentience and simian creativity, however, the court ultimately ruled that the U.S. copyright system simply wasn’t created with any intention of protecting non-human works of art.

Amy M Lavine

Ghosts are also ineligible for copyright protection. The issue might seem silly today, but a serious legal conundrum back in 1917 asked whether Mark Twain’s ghost should get the copyright for a novel it allegedly transcribed via Ouija board, Jap Herron, or whether the copyright properly belonged to the deceased Mark Twain’s estate. The ghost transcriptionist and/or the actual author of the book eventually decided to pull the book from publication rather than risk losing in court, so unfortunately the court didn’t get a chance to discuss the copyright implications of immortality.

Amy M Lavine is an attorney, writer, and entrepreneur based in Hudson, NY. As the owner of Sketch Stationery, which designs and produces paper goods with a focus on local artists and historic images of the Hudson Valley, Lavine takes a keen interest in copyright law and its application to two-dimensional works.