The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that animals cannot own copyrights. The decision reinforced the 2016 ruling by a lower court in favor of British nature photographer David Slater, who was sued by PETA on behalf of a crested macaques monkey.
While traveling through Indonesia in 2011, Slater set a camera on a tripod with a wired remote at the Sulawesi nature reserve in an attempt to encourage the primates to take photos of themselves. One such monkey did, and the images were used in the photojournalist’s 2014 book “Wildlife Personalities.”
Less than a year later, PETA filed a lawsuit on behalf of the pictures’ subject, who they named Naruto and claimed was the legal copyright owner. In addition, the animal rights organization requested they be made administrator on Naruto’s behalf, in order to donate proceeds from the photographs to benefit the endangered species.
In December of 2014, as Slater fought for legal ownership of what was arguably created by an animal, the United States Copyright Office stated that works created by non-humans were ineligible for copyright protection. A U.S. district judge confirmed that notion in 2016’s PETA hearing, citing “no indication” that the United States Copyright Act applied to animals.
PETA appealed the 2016 decision, sending the case to the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco despite an eventual settlement between the parties. During the July 2017 review, Angela Dunning — an attorney representing Slater — said, “It is absurd to say a monkey can sue for copyright infringement. Naruto can’t benefit financially from his work. He is a monkey.”