Have you heard the one about the monkey who took a selfie and tried to get a copyright? Or the one about the elephant who tried to protect the rights to his video that wound up going viral on YouTube?

No…these aren’t just intros to classic animal jokes. Rather, they are examples of the new limitations on who…or what, can obtain copyright protection under federal law.

The U.S. Copyright office recently released an update to its manual, the first in nearly 30 years, where it explains that the office will not register creative works produced by “nature, animals or plants.” 

The update comes at an opportune time for Wikimedia, the legal arm of the website, Wikipedia. It has been embroiled in a copyright dispute over a photograph of a grinning monkey. The photo was serendipitously taken by a monkey who had picked up the camera of British photographer David Slater, who claimed to own the copyright over the picture since it was taken with his camera.

Wikipedia had added it to its royalty-free images section, and rebuffed Slater’s request to take it down; explaining that photos taken by animals could not earn copyright protection.

With the proliferation of cat videos and dog tricks on the Internet, it is good to know that there is a distinction between what is a protected work and the production of a curious animal. Nevertheless, people who feel very strongly about their “creativity” being exploited are bound to raise an issue. When this occurs, it is helpful to have an experienced intellectual property attorney to give professional advice.