A couple months ago, I wrote a post about a lawsuit involving PETA, a macaque, and a selfie. If you don’t recall, PETA argued on behalf of a primate named Naruto that a selfie the monkey took deserved copyright protection. At that time, PETA was appealing a ruling from the Northern District in California that the monkey was not, in fact, a copyright holder. Well, now the case is over, and the 9th Circuit (unsurprisingly) did not grant a copyright to Naruto. Instead, the parties withdrew the case, and settled out of court.
Even though, PETA did not win a copyright for Naruto, settlement still strikes me as a win for the animal rights organization. if I had to guess, I’d say that PETA didn’t really think it would get a court to agree that animals can have copyrights. Sure, it would be great if the 9th Circuit issued such a decision, but it seems unlikely. Instead, I’d bet PETA’s primary goal was to raise public awareness of the ideas that animals have more agency and personality than people often recognize and that maybe we should give animals copyright author status.
So, if my guesses are true, then PETA came away with what they hoped for and more. Not only have a number of news articles been written about this case, across a variety of well know publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post. What is more, they got David Slater, the photographer, to issue a joint statement with them saying that “this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for nonhuman animals, a goal that they both support, and they will continue their respective work to achieve this goal.” Moreover, Slater agreed to donate 25% of all earnings from the selfies to charities in Indonesia that protect macaques. So PETA got public awareness, a statement from the defendant almost saying that they were right, and money for animals. Even though, as many people point, the selfies may not earn any money since they are in the public domain, I still say WOW!
Nevertheless, we still don’t have a firm judgement on copyright law as it applies to animals, so who knows what this settlement actually settles. While I’d argue that animals certainly aren’t authors under copyright law, it would be nice to have a court weigh in on this. And it sure seems likely to me that if/when this issue comes back up, PETA will be at the 9th Circuit once again to make their point. But for now, nothing has changed with respect to copyrights for nonhumans.