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Court Rules Against Monkey: No, You Don’t Own A Copyright

By  Hank Berrien

Even if you’re a monkey’s uncle, you’re not eligible to own a copyright.

On Monday, a U.S. appeals court ruled that animals cannot have copyrights to photos. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling in favor of David Slater, the nature photographer whose camera was used to take the photos of a crested macaque named Naruto in 2011.

Slater had been traveling to Indonesia since 2008 to photograph the critically-endangered Celebes crested macaques. He then licensed several images to the Caters News Agency; they released them, along with a written promotional press release with quotes from Slater, for publication in the British media. In July, several British publications published the photos and wrote that they had been self-portraits taken by the monkeys. Slater countered that his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd., owned worldwide commercial rights to the photos; he explained that he had set the camera on a tripod with a large wide angle lens and set the camera’s settings to help catalyze the monkeys to take the pictures.

After Slater had published a book containing the photographs through self-publishing company Blurb, in September 2015, PETA filed a lawsuit asking for the monkey to be assigned copyright. Not only that, PETA wanted to be appointed to administer proceeds from the photos for the endangered species’ benefit.

In December 2014, the United States Copyright Office stated that works created by a non-human were not copyrightable. In 2016, a judge ruled that the monkey could not own the copyright to the images. PETA appealed the decision.

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