When posed with the question of whether monkeys can copyright their self-portraits, the United States Copyright Office has finally spoken out, and the answer is a resounding "no." The Copyright Office's latest manual edition – the first major update in more than 30 years – unequivocally states that only humans can obtain copyrights. Specifically, the manual says that the Office "will not register works produced by nature, animals or plants." That simple statement lets the wind out of the sails for what could have been a burgeoning, niche intellectual property subset.
Electric car manufacturer Tesla has recently settled a lengthy legal battle regarding the trademark of the company's name with the owner of the trademark, a Chinese businessman. As part of the settlement, the owner agreed to waive his right to the Tesla name (a de facto pass to allow Tesla use the trademark without restriction for marketing and sales purposes), and Tesla agrees to withdraw claims against the owner seeking compensation.
In 2011, a monkey grabbed an unattended camera in the Indonesian forest and snapped a quick self portrait. The resulting image quickly became an internet sensation, and today a full-fledged controversy is underway regarding ownership of its underlying copyright.
In the 1990s, Napster brought peer-to-peer file sharing to the masses and forever changed the landscape of intellectual property law regarding music and other downloadable electronic media. Today, 3D printing is poised to create similar challenges in the world of three-dimensional objects.