A federal appeals court decided unanimously Monday that animals may not sue for copyright protection.
The ruling came in the case of a monkey that took selfies with a wildlife photographer’s camera. The photographer later published the photos.
An animal rights group sued, charging the monkey owned the copyright because it took the pictures.
“We must determine whether a monkey may sue humans, corporations, and companies for damages and injunctive relief arising from claims of copyright infringement,” Judge Carlos Bea, appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote for a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We conclude that this monkey — and all animals, since they are not human — lacks statutory standing under the Copyright Act,” Bea said.
Naruto, named as the plaintiff, was a 7-year-old crested macaque living in a reserve in Indonesia. The monkey purportedly took several photos of itself in 2011 when wildlife photographer David Slater left his camera unattended.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, known as PETA, sued Slater in 2015, arguing the copyright belonged to the animal. The group and Slater later settled the case out of court, but the 9th Circuit decided to rule on the matter anyway
Judge N. Randy Smith, in a concurrence, called PETA’s suit “frivolous.”
“The concept of expanding actual property rights — and rights broadly — to animals necessitates resolving what duties also come with those rights,” he wrote, “and, because animals cannot communicate in our language, who stands in their shoes?”
He said the federal courts lack the authority to hear a suit purportedly brought by an animal.
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