Benjamin Appelbaum, Attorney at Law

Can a monkey hold a copyright to a photo it took?

Readers may remember a couple of years ago when a monkey got a hold of a camera and took a photo of itself. Afterward, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claimed the monkey owned the copyright to that selfie and brought a lawsuit, seeking to establish this, on behalf of the animal. In addition, PETA said it would administer the copyright on the behalf of the animal. In the meantime, the photographer, who owned the camera used to take the photo, obtained a British copyright for the image. He also sought to have PETA’s lawsuit dismissed. 

In the interim, the U.S. Copyright Office has use the photo as an example of something that can’t be copyrighted. Recently, a federal judge ruled on the matter. He agreed with the stance taken by the U.S. Copyright Office. In his opinion he indicated that under current copyright laws, it was not possible for the monkey to get the copyright. In order for the monkey to secure the copyright, Congress would need to take action. Specifically, Congress would need to change copyright laws to provide standing to hold copyright to non-human animals.

PETA expressed its plan to continue to pursue the matter on behalf of the monkey.

While this is certainly a unique copyright case, human animals should be aware that they may be able to pursue copyright via the same process. Because matters concerning intellectual property are generally complex, anyone seeking to establish copyright in this manner would benefit from working with an intellectual property attorney.

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Benjamin Appelbaum, Attorney at Law - Intellectual Property

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