“Animals Can’t File Copyright Infringement Suits” Appeals Court Rules Over Monkey “Selfie”

by: The Knowledge Group

May 01, 2018


In a case that could probably only be found in America, the 9th Circuit Court recently ruled on appeal that a monkey, represented by PETA, does not have ownership rights to the personal image he captured on a photographer’s camera. The so-called “monkey selfie” is absolutely adorable and fun, which encouraged the photographer to use it in his recent book. PETA took serious exception to the publishing, citing the Copyright Act as the basis for their argument. While this ruling didn’t favor Naruto (not pictured), the 7-year old macaque monkey who did the deed, it did revive interest in the conversation around the rights of non-humans.

No Legal Copyrights for Animals

The case, which has been ongoing since 2015 and only recently received a response from the appellate court, centers around photographer David Slater. The wildlife photographer left his camera unattended in a preserve in 2011 and later found that Naruto decided to have a little fun of his own. Judge N. Randy Smith offered a concurring opinion on the ruling, “We have no idea whether animals or objects wish to own copyrights or open bank accounts to hold their royalties from sales of pictures.”

Constitutional Right of Non-humans

In a bizarre twist, the one good that did come of the case was the renewed interest and vindication of PETA of the constitutional rights that are available to non-humans. Specifically, whether or not an animal could, in fact, bring a case to the federal court system when they are wronged. This finding reinforces the ruling in 2004 around a whale and porpoises that were allegedly harmed by Navy sonar. While that case did establish the precedent for animals to potentially sue in a national court, it was considered significantly different from the copyright infringement case that PETA attempted to launch.

The real learning here is that PETA may not have had the best interests of the animal involved, and appeared to instead be forwarding their own initiatives. While the case did gain national attention for PETA, it may not have the overall positive effect that they were expecting or hoping for.

Here at The Knowledge Group, we have a number of webcasts about copyright and patent infringement, join us on May 24th for our webcast analyzing 2017 patent infringement developments and how they impact decisions being made moving forward by clicking here.  You can also view our extensive library of webcasts by clicking here, for every human’s continuing education need.