Do animals have copyrights?

The famous monkey selfie debate is over, for now

 Do animals have copyrights?

Leer en Español:¿Los animales tienen derechos intelectuales?

The story begins with David Slater, a British wildlife photographer. Slater left his camera unattended at his campsite at the Tangkoko Reserve in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. After some time, the photographer looked at the pictures inside the camera’s memory and found a photo taken by one of the monkeys of the area. In the image, the animal seems to be smiling: a perfect selfie. Slater published a book with some of the images of his trip, including the selfie.

In 2015, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) argued that the monkey, for being the artist of said photograph, had the photo’s copyrights. The judge William H. Orrick dismissed the claim because " [the] Copyright Act does not authorize vesting copyright ownership in nonhumans". However, PETA appealed the demand to the U.S. Court of Appeals of the 9th circuit. This led to a moral dilemma within society. Who has legal rights over the image? The animal who took the picture or the human who owns the camera?

During the last couple of weeks, the debate was settled. PETA and Slater agreed to drop the case and donate 25% of the picture’s future royalties to animal shelters and sanctuaries in Indonesia. Indirectly, one may assume that due to this conclusion, the monkey owns one fourth of the image.

The joint statement that was published assures that "PETA and David Slater agree that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for non-human animals, a goal that they both support, and they will continue their respective work to achieve this goal".

Some legal experts assured that it's impossible, for now, to give animals copyrights because they aren't legal entities. However, the outcome of this lawsuit benefited PETA’s legal argument which may pave the way for future animal rights debates. For example, the heritage rights, the property status of animal, or even the debate of the use of animals in experimentation.


Latin American Post | Santiago Gómez Hernández 

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto


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