I guess where the Nonhuman Rights Project failed, People for the Extortion, Torture and Abuse of human beings (PETA) is going to attempt to succeed. The group recently filed a lawsuit in San Francisco asking a federal judge to grant a macaque monkey as the copyright holder of some selfies taken with the camera of a nature photographer.
According to the Associated Press (AP), the selfies in question were taken by a macaque money named Naruto on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi with a camera positioned by British photographer David Slater. Slater )a self-professed animal rights supporter) states not only is he dismayed with the lawsuit but that he is the intellect behind the photos and is the copyright holder since the photos were taken with his camera. Slater also points out he set up the camera so that a monkey could take such a photo.
The photographs were taken during 2011 when photographer David Slater was visiting the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and were part of a book Slater published called Wildlife Personalities that includes the selfie photos. The images have been widely disseminated by other venues, such as Wikipedia, so a case could be made that the images are not copyrighted because an animal, and not a human, took the photos.
In 2014 the US Copyright Office updated its policies stating that it would only register original products done by human beings and that works done by animals would not qualify. However, PETA’s attorney contends that the policy update is just an opinion and that copyright law clearly shows that it is not the person who owns the camera but the being who took the picture.
This isn’t the first time animal rights groups have litigated cockamamie ideas. In 2011, PETA sued SeaWorld in federal court contending that the manner in which orcas are housed and viewed by the public at the theme park constituted a violation of 13th Amendment rights. The judge who heard the case dismissed it on the grounds that the amendment applied only to humans. This year, New York State courts turned away a request by the Nonhuman Rights Project to grand habeas corpus rights for four chimpanzees declaring that habeas corpus rights apply to humans and chimpanzees are not homosapiens and, therefore, are not covered by the statute.
While PETA’s lawsuit is seen by some as having some merit, fortunately, legal experts contend that the logic behind the case may not be successful. The AP quotes Michigan State University law professor David Favre as saying PETA will have an uphill battle. Harvard Law School professor and animal rights supporter Laurence Tribe was apprehensive about the lawsuit too.
It trivializes the terrible problems of needless animal slaughter and avoidable animal exploitation worldwide for lawyers to focus so much energy and ingenuity on whether monkeys own the copyright in selfies taken under these contrived circumstances, he said.
It is mankind’s ability to think and reason that makes humans nature’s favored species. Animals lack any rational faculties or sense of morality in which their primary means of survival is predatory instincts and sensory perception. In the case of this selfie, the monkey in question conducted his act based on his instincts and a habit he acquired and not necessarily based on any ability on his part to take selfies. Hypothetically, if Naruto did have the same thinking abilities as a human, the monkey took that photo knowing the risks involved since he would know that the intent of the owner of the camera was to disseminate Naruto’s photo in order to make money. The New York judge hearing the legal case brought by the NhRP concluded that the chimpanzees in question were not legal persons due to a chimpanzee’s inability to take on duties or responsibilities of adult humans (such as voting, jury duty or paying rent).
Court cases of this nature can be just a matter of finding the right venue with a friendly judge. Groups like PETA will keep trying until they score a victory. If PETA is successful, a court ruling in their favor will lead to a Pandora’s Box of litigation that will eventually destroy individual rights. It will result in the destruction of human life since human rights will be on par with beings (animals) who lack any sense of morality and whose kingdom’s primary ethic is one of savagery.