Under copyright law, those who write stories and music, create art and take photographs own the legal rights to the work they have created unless they enter a contract to sign over their rights to another party. What if an animal creates a work of art or takes a picture? Florida residents may be interested to hear about a case involving a monkey that took a selfie and ended up being the subject of a copyright lawsuit over the picture he took.
In 2011, a photographer visiting an Indonesian wildlife reserve left his camera equipment unattended near a group of macaque monkeys, and a curious male took a series of humorous photographs of his own face with the camera. After the photographer later published the photos in a book, the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals took him to court on behalf of the animal, saying that he was violating the monkey’s rights by publishing the photograph without its permission.
In the original case, the judge ruled that the rights to the photograph belonged to the owner of the camera, since animals lack the knowledge and foresight to own their intellectual creations and file lawsuits. Recently, the 9thU.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling, saying that animals cannot take humans to court and that an animal cannot legally claim copyright status of a photograph it reportedly took. Additionally, the court awarded the photographer attorneys’ fees.
A monkey may not have the legal right to sue if a photograph it took was published without its permission, but the same is not true for humans who find their work used by others without their consent.
Source: USA TODAY, "A monkey took a selfie, went to court — and lost the appeal," Brett Molina, April 24, 2018