Australia: What if a koala took the selfie?: copyright and animals as authors

HG Intellectual Property Alert: 12 August 2014

When an Indonesian monkey snatched the camera off a British photographer and took a photo of itself, it inadvertently sparked a fascinating legal battle over the copyright in the photo. The photographer claims he owns it, but Wikimedia argues that he does not seeing as though the monkey took the photo!

In this Alert, Partner Hayden Delaney and Solicitor Hayley Tarr look at how this case would play out under Australian laws. What if a koala took the selfie?

Key points

  • A pet, farm or zoo animal is deemed to be the personal property of its owner.
  • An animal is not an individual, and therefore not an author under the Copyright Act.
  • An animal cannot create copyright works.
  • In some circumstances, the actions of an animal are attributed to its owner. The law is unclear as to whether these circumstances include actions of an animal which result in the creation of copyright works.
  • Where the actions of an animal's owner, in causing or prompting the animal to take actions which result in the creation of copyright works, are sufficiently creative to warrant the existence of copyright in the work, then copyright might also subsist.

Animals are chattels

Animals in captivity, which includes pets, farm and zoo animals, are deemed to be chattels (meaning that they are the personal property of the owner, farm owner or zoo owner). Therefore, any property (including the intellectual property of copyright) produced by that animal, should automatically vest in the owner upon creation, in the same way that any fruit borne by a tree automatically vest in the tree owner once it falls off the tree and becomes a separate asset.

In this way, it seems clear that whatever is produced by the monkey is owned by the owner of the monkey. But, can a monkey produce copyright work?

Is an animal an author?

Unlike an apple that exists because it exists, copyright is a statutory construct which only exists if the Copyright Act says it exists.

Section 10 of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) states that ""author", in relation to a photograph, means the person who took the photograph". Section 2C of the Acts Interpretation Act defines "persons" to include "individuals". Are animals "individuals"? The answer (to whether they are, not whether they should be) is a resounding no. If this were not the case, our present laws would be fraught with problems. Section 291 of the Queensland Criminal Code, for example, makes it "unlawful to kill any person". Given that, as discussed above, "person" is defined to include "individuals", if "individuals" were taken to include animals, then Section 291 of the Queensland Criminal Code could be read as "(it is) unlawful to kill any animals". If that were the case, a lot of Queenslanders would be looking down the barrel of hefty sentences when they sat down to dinner each night (as accessories after the fact). Thus, suffice to say, the current legal definition of "individuals", does not include animals.

Therefore, the monkey is not an author, so there is no copyright work unless an alternative author can be identified.

Are the actions of an animal attributable to its owner?

Could there be a copyright work, created by the owner (a person) via the monkey? There are two ways in which this might happen:

  1. Under the common law, owners are deemed strictly liable for damage caused by straying livestock, for example. Strict liability is even more onerous than vicarious liability (where the actions of one are attributed to another). Thus, there are definitely grounds for an argument that the actions of the animal are attributable (and in fact attributed) to the owner and that, the act of taking the photograph is in fact an action taken by the owner vicariously.
  2. There are also grounds for an argument that the monkey should be viewed the same as any other chattel, i.e. such as a computer. In this case, the question becomes whether the actions of the owner are sufficiently creative to warrant the existence of copyright in the work. In the case of Telstra Corporation Limited v Phone Directories Company Pty Ltd [2010] FCA 44, the Court held that copyright did not subsist in Yellow Pages and White Pages telephone directories because the persons responsible for collating the directory did not exercise independent intellectual effort as the creation process was heavily automated (by computers). Here, the owner allowed a monkey to use his camera. Is that sufficiently creative? There are definitely a lot less creative actions that give rise to copyrighted work.


In summary, there is no clear cut answer to the pressing question of what would have happened if a koala took the selfie. But it definitely raises some intricate legal questions, demonstrating the inadequacy of our current concept of animals as chattels in light of their obvious uniqueness and independence in thoughts and actions. This is not a moot point but of significant relevance given the prevalence of possible copyrighted works created by animals (such as artwork by dolphins and elephants) and the broader implications relating to other non-animal kingdoms (such as the more commercially impactful scenario of where some DNA that is possessed by either an individual or a laboratory mutates and thereby creates a new copyrighted work, being a new DNA sequence).

© HopgoodGanim Lawyers

Award-winning law firm HopgoodGanim offers commercially-focused advice, coupled with reliable and responsive service, to clients throughout Australia and across international borders.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Hayley Tarr
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.