Can you Copyright a Selfie?

In recent weeks, “selfies” have dominated internet headlines. From monkeys taking selfies, to one of the biggest celebrity phone hacking scandals involving hundreds of selfies, it seems like the selfie is here to stay. However, what kind of rights do your selfies have? Can they be protected under The Copyright Act?

Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship”. Copyright provides protection for the original and creative expression of an idea which is embodied in a tangible medium. Pursuant to the statute governing copyrights, “pictorial works” including, photographs can be copyrighted. See, 17 U.S.C. § 106. The person who owns the copyright is the “author”, and technically, the author must be a human being. So in the case of the Indonesian macaque who took a selfie, the U.S. Copyright Office declared that a “photograph taken by a monkey” is not eligible for protection (Sorry monkey). But a celebrity, who takes a selfie, can be afforded copyright protection. Owning a copyright allows the owner to prevent others from reproducing a copyrighted work, distributing copies, and displaying the work publicly (among others).

While a copyright registration is not required to gain copyright protection, it does provide the owner several advantages in the case of an infringement lawsuit, including damages and attorney’s fees. However, celebrities and selfie takers should act fast. If the work is not registered within three months after first publication of the work certain types of damages are likely to be barred. See, 17 U.S.C. § 412.

If you are interested in copyrighting a selfie, or perhaps some of the more common copyrighted works, please contact our office at (954) 351-7474.

Paloma Z. Coelho
Santucci Priore, P.L.
Associate Attorney

Photo Credit: Flickr User tonicito

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