Can animals own a copyright?

This may sound like a stupid question. Can animals own a copyright? People may have different opinions, but the opinion of the District Court of California is that they can’t.
Strange as it sounds, the animal rights group, PETA, filed a lawsuit last September on behalf of a macaque monkey from Indonesia named Naruto. Naruto became famous when in 2011 he picked up a camera left unattended by British photographer, David Slater, and managed to snap off several “selfies.”

PETA. Selfie.

PETA sued David Slater and his publishing company Blurb, claiming Naruto the monkey was the “sole author and owner” of the photos. The company, included the selfies in a book it published titled Wildlife Personalities.
The fact that the monkey took the photos was not lost on news organizations, which have regularly used the photos without permission. PETA petitioned the court to allow them to represent the monkey and manage any financial proceeds from the selfies and use those proceeds for the “animal and his community.”  They asserted that there was no human involvement in the taking of the photos.
The Ninth Circuit did not buy into PETA’s arguments and ruled against them noting that there was no indication that the Copyright Act extends to animals.
Judge William H. Orrick went on to say:
“The Court announces the tentative opinion, in line with the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in Cetacean Community v Bush, that while Congress and the President can extend the protection of law to animals as well as humans, there is no indication that they did so in the Copyright Act. The Copyright Office’s Compendium is consistent with the Court’s understanding.”
Jeff Kerr, PETA’s general manager had the following to say about the ruling:
“Despite this setback, we are celebrating that legal history was made in our unprecedented argument to a federal court that Naruto, a crested macaque monkey, should be the owner of property (specifically, the copyright to the famous ‘monkey selfie’ photos that he undeniably took), rather than a mere piece of property himself. We will continue to fight for Naruto and his fellow macaques, who are in grave danger of being killed for bush meat or for foraging for food in a nearby village while their habitat disappears because of human encroachment.”

Copyright Act.

For now the case is settled. According to the Copyright Act, animals do not have the protection granted to humans, and only congress with the signature of the President can change this.
That’s it for now. Do you have an opinion about this? Join my conversation on my Facebook Law PageGoogle+ pageTwitter feed, or in one of my LinkedIn group discussions.

Skip to content