The 9th Circuit has determined that animals cannot sue for copyright infringement. At issue was the following: a monkey, Naruto, was a seven-year-old crested macaque that lived—and, as the Court noted, may still live—in a reserve on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia. In 2011, a wildlife photographer, David Slater, left his camera unattended in the reserve. Naruto allegedly took several photographs of himself with Slater’s camera. Slater published the photos in a book. PETA sued Slater (and the publisher) for copyright infringement on behalf of Naruto.
The Ninth Circuit held that not only did PETA lack standing as Naruto's "next friend," but Naruto himself lacked standing under the Copyright Act to pursue a claim for infringement because "[i]f the statute does not so plainly state, then animals do not have statutory standing. The Copyright Act does not expressly authorize animals to file copyright infringement suits under the statute."
How this case will figure into other pending or future cases involving non-human animals' rights remains to be seen. But, for now, we know at least that the Copyright Act provides protection only to human content creators.
"We must determine whether a monkey may sue humans, corporations, and companies for damages and injunctive relief arising from claims of copyright infringement. Our court’s precedent requires us to conclude that the monkey’s claim has standing under Article III of the United States Constitution. Nonetheless, we conclude that this monkey—and all animals, since they are not human—lacks statutory standing under the Copyright Act.1 We therefore affirm the judgment of the district court."