Monkeys, Selfies, and Copyrights, Part 4

Yes, it’s still a thing.  Ars Technica reports that, as the latest twist in an ongoing legal drama, a federal judge in San Francisco has rejected the argument that a monkey can own a copyright under current U.S. law.  In a hearing this week, U.S. District Judge William Orrick stated that the question of whether non-human animals can own copyrights “is an issue for Congress and the president,” adding that “[i]f they think animals should have the right of copyright they’re free, I think, under the Constitution, to do that.”  Calling the primate plaintiff’s argument a “stretch,” the judge indicated that he intended to dismiss the case in an upcoming order.  The judge’s decision is a setback for the monkey’s human representatives, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (“PETA”), who brought the suit on the monkey’s behalf and intended that any proceeds from the suit would be used to help preserve the endangered monkey’s Indonesian habitat.

For those who have not been following this gripping saga as closely as you should have been (see earlier posts on this subject here, here, and here), the tale began in 2011 when a macaque monkey on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi snapped a series of selfies with a camera that had been set up by British wildlife photographer David Slater.  Slater then filed for U.S. copyright protection for the images, which had quickly gone viral on the Internet.  The U.S. Copyright Office refused registration on the basis that copyright protection requires human authorship of the work(s), and in 2014 amended its published guidelines to specifically state that “[a] photograph taken by a monkey” is non-registrable.  The subsequent PETA lawsuit against Slater, filed in September 2015, is based on the argument that the law does not specifically state that copyrights may only be owned by humans, and therefore does not preclude animal ownership.  Judge Orrick’s rejection of this argument is a blow not only to PETA and its monkey plaintiff, but also to the noble cause of animal intellectual property rights in general.  The decision will likely send shockwaves though the animal community, and will no doubt stifle animal creativity and reduce the already meager economic incentives that animals have to create, sell, license, publicly perform, and otherwise exploit original works of authorship.  Apparently, for animals, the law of the jungle prevails.  Read the article here.  From Ars Technica.

 By Self-portrait by the depicted Macaca nigra female. See  article . [Public domain], via  Wikimedia Commons .

By Self-portrait by the depicted Macaca nigra female. See article. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.