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Monkey See, Monkey Sue

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On Wednesday, January 6th, a US federal judge in San Francisco ruled that animals cannot be declared copyright owners of photographs.

During a 2011 trip to Indonesia, a macaque monkey took a selfie using British nature photographer David Slater’s camera. The photo has been widely distributed online, with outlets such as Wikipedia defending their right use the photo by contending that no one owned the copyright to the image because it was taken by an animal rather than a person.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a lawsuit in 2015 to obtain a court order allowing PETA to administer all proceeds from the sale of the photos on behalf of the monkey.

The US Copyright Office has said that it would only register copyrights for works produced by humans. Anything produced by an animal, be that a photo taken by a monkey, painting by an elephant, or sculpture by a sea otter, would not qualify.

Judge William Orrick said that Congress and the President could extend the protection of law to animals. However, there was no indication that they had done so in the Copyright Act so he was unwilling to extend the rights of authorship to a monkey.

Slater maintains that he is the rightful owner to the copyright of the famous selfie, saying “There’s a lot more to copyright than who pushes the trigger on the camera. I set up the shot, I was behind all the components in taking that image.”

It is unclear whether this ruling will assist Slater’s efforts to legally assert his ownership of the image. So until then, you shouldn’t leave your selfie stick in the paws of your pet.

Article written by Karen Shedden, NCA Candidate

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