More Copyright in Selfies; Australian Politicians and other Animals

Our recent blog on ownership of copyright in animal selfies here has generated a couple of follow up questions.

1. Is there copyright in segments of wildlife films where a hidden camera is activated by detecting the animal’s movement?

Yes. Cinematograph films (as the Copyright Act quaintly refers to them ) unlike photographs are not “works”, and the ownership rules applying to them are different.  In a blow to French cultural theorists, they do not need to have authors, and copyright is owned by the entity  who made the arrangements for the film to be made, in other words, the producer.

2. Is there copyright in selfies of politicians, specifically the infamous shaving cut selfie of one K. Rudd?

The connection between this question and monkey selfies  was not parliamentary question time, but s.105 of Title 17 of the US Code, which provides that copyright protection is not available for any work of the United States Government, defined as “a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties.” Accordingly, selfies taken by astronauts, for example, do not attract United States copyright protection, and were posted on US websites as being in the public domain.  This doesn’t mean they can be copied in Australia; foreigners have the same rights in relation to copyright in Australia as Australian owners, so the Australian Copyright Act not  Title 17 applies to the reproduction of the astronaut selfies in Australia.

There is no Australian equivalent to s.105 of Title 17,  so (returning to K. Rudd) we do not need to worry about whether a member of an Australian parliament is an officer of government, or what constitute a prime minister’s official duties.  In fact, Australian governments, both state and federal, have wider copyright protection than mere subjects.  Sections 176 and 177 of the Australian Copyright Act grant the Crown copyright in original works made or first published under the direction of the Crown, regardless of who is the author.   In any case, any legal barrier to the further circulation of the image in question is probably in the public interest.



Annette Rubinstein, Former POF Attorney

BA(Hons) LLB(Hons)

Annette has worked in the Legal Policy and Research Department of the Victorian Attorney General’s Department and has practised as a barrister.