The story of the monkey who took a selfie is, by now, probably widely known. Summary: a court said that the owner of the camera is not entitled to rights because the picture was taken by the monkey, not the human.

My question is the following: I saw a video of a cat playing the piano. (Hear me out...)

(Her name is Nora). Now, I understand the video is the property of its author: a human being.

But what about the "music". Just the notes. I also understand that if the "music" was taught by a human being (like what happens sometimes in a circus) the music is the human's, but in this case, when (it seems) the "music" is really "played" by the cat (rather randomly), is it copytight-able ? I understand the anumal cannot actually have the property, but can his owner?

EDIT: I fogot to state one way this question can be tricky: One difference is that the photographer didn't own the monkey, but the cat is definitely owned.

(The countries are UK and US)

  • Which country does this happen in? This is likely a novel area of law but I would expect it to follow the precedent set by the selfie case.
    – jimsug
    Mar 3, 2016 at 22:13
  • @jimsug, thanks, I edited to put the link for the countries. It seems to be based on older laws, the main debate seems to be on whether the human had any creative added value to the picture...And I want to say "duh", but I am not an expert...Hence the question.
    – ZakC
    Mar 3, 2016 at 22:24
  • The article about the photograph appears to have been written before the case was decided. Do you have a link to anything covering the court's decision?
    – phoog
    Mar 4, 2016 at 16:25
  • PDF and weblink explicitly mentioning this incident.
    – ZakC
    Mar 4, 2016 at 16:40

1 Answer 1


17 USC §102:

Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship

17 USC §201:

Copyright in a work protected under this title vests initially in the author or authors of the work.

Animals cannot be authors. To the extent that the cat's owner could be an author, copyright only subsists in "original works of authorship". The test for originality in the US was laid out in Feist Pubs., Inc. v. Rural Tel. Svc. Co., Inc., 499 U.S. 340 (1991):

The constitutional requirement necessitates independent creation plus a modicum of creativity.

The music produced by the cat was not a product of even a modicum of creativity on the part of the cat's owner (or anyone, for that matter). No copyright subsists in the notes randomly chosen by the cat.

  • Yet composers apparently retain copyright in music created through random processes. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleatoric_music. How is the participation of a cat any different from the casting of dice? If you ask me, the monkey selfie guy hired the wrong lawyer.
    – phoog
    Jun 19, 2016 at 16:31

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