issues with the monkey selfie and copyright law

Animal Rights vs. Copyright Law

It may seem bizarre to ask whether an animal can own property. After all, over the ages, animals have generally been considered human property themselves. Today, one of these property rights is in dispute. Copyright is a form of intellectual property law which protects original works of authorship and has traditionally only been granted to humans. Now, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will review a lower court’s opinion on the applicability of copyright law to animals.

This case began in 2011 when a British photographer named David Slater left his camera unattended and a monkey took a selfie in a little known Indonesian jungle. The photo featured a toothy grin and near-human expression that took off like wildfire over the internet. The monkey, and the photo, became an international hit, and spawned several movements in its wake.

The result was a battle over who had the right to control, and profit from, the use of the image on the internet. The image was hosted in the public domain and freely licensed to all. While the U.S. Copyright Office stated that works created by a non-human are not subject to U.S. copyright, some scholars argued that the Slater’s role in authoring the photo was enough to trigger a valid copyright. As legal scholars argued over the legal issue, Slater published a book containing the contested image.

Animal Rights Organization Fights Copyright

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a well-known animal rights organization, declared that the monkey that took the photo should be entitled to a percentage of profits from any use of the image. PETA sued, arguing that the monkey himself was the author of the photo and should therefore own the copyright to the picture. PETA further asserted that they should be appointed guardians of the copyrighted work, to protect the property rights of the monkey and benefit his life.

At the trial level, a federal judge rejected these arguments. The judge ruled that the Copyright Act did not include works created by animals, and therefore the monkey should not be allowed a property right. PETA appealed the decision and the case is now in front of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court will likely establish a precedent and, barring certification to the U.S. Supreme Court, conclude this copyright question which has lingered since 2014.

Copyright Basics

For other bipedal species, getting a copyright for original work may not be as difficult. There are numerous laws, rulings, and regulations that allow a person to retain, protect, and profit from his or her creative processes. But those rules, rulings, and regulations can be complicated and difficult to implement. In some cases, it is not clear whether a creation is actually protectable under the law. In other cases, it is not clear who owns a copyright.

Everyone needs the right legal team in their corner for all of the various situations they find themselves in with regards to copyright and other intellectual property issues. As your legal team, the attorneys of Royse Law Firm will help you understand what your intellectual property rights are and how to protect them. Whether that means taking your case to court to protect those rights, or filing with the appropriate agency, we are your full-service partner in protecting your intellectual property. Contact us today to learn about all of the various ways we can help you.

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