The Corner

Law & the Courts

Courts Should Punish PETA

As long as courts continue to permit the animal rights fanatics at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to sow subversion through their frivolous litigation tactics–such as when it tried to have a federal court declare Sea World’s orcas to be ”slaves”–it will continue to take up precious court time and cost the litigiously attacked a tremendous amount of time, money, and grief.

Latest example. Photographer David Slater positioned a camera in a monkey sanctuary. A curious monkey pushed the shutter button and took a “selfie,” although, of course, the monkey had no idea that it was doing anything of the kind. 

Slater properly sought to make money off the copyrighted photograph. But PETA decided the monkey should own the copyright, and sued.

Two years later, PETA finally lost its last appeal, but bludgeoned the photographer into donating funds to environmental protection. From the BBC story:

US judges had said copyright protection could not be applied to the monkey but Peta said the animal should benefit.

Peta’s appeal on the “monkey’s behalf” was dismissed but Mr Slater has agreed to donate 25% of any future revenue.

In a joint statement from Peta and Mr Slater, it said the photographer will give a quarter of the funds he receives from selling the monkey selfies to registered charities “dedicated to protecting the welfare or habitat of Naruto”.

“Peta’s groundbreaking case sparked a massive international discussion about the need to extend fundamental rights to animals for their own sake, not in relation to how they can be exploited by humans,” said Peta lawyer Jeff Kerr.

Baloney. The case generated publicity for PETA and animal rights (which must always be distinguished from animal welfare).  That’s all this was ever about.

There was never any chance a monkey would be granted a copyright. A copyright requires that the owner have engaged in a creative act, which is way beyond the ken of monkeys. I mean, the monkey had no idea what the camera was or what a photograph is. 

But think about the cost PETA extracted. Think of the hours of court time wasted in this case–when litigants with real cases often have difficulty accessing courts and cases are measured in years.

Think of the financial and time costs to Slater and the sleepless nights he experienced. In fact, PETA broke him financially. From the Guardian story:

David Slater could not afford the air fare to San Francisco to attend the hearing on Wednesday. Nor can he afford to replace his broken camera equipment, or pay the attorney who has been defending him since the crested black macaque sued him in 2015, and is exploring other ways to earn an income…

“Every photographer dreams of a photograph like this,” Slater said of the image of a primate grinning toothily into the lens. “If everybody gave me a pound for every time they used [the photograph], I’d probably have £40m in my pocket. The proceeds from these photographs should have me comfortable now, and I’m not.”

Making a living as a freelancer is tough for any photographer, but for Slater, economic stability was once tantalizingly within reach.

Instead, he is struggling to get by. “I’m trying to become a tennis coach,” Slater said by phone on Wednesday from his home in Chepstow, Wales. “I’m even thinking about doing dog walking. I don’t make enough money to pay income tax.”

The time has come for the courts to put a stop to this. PETA should be treated as a vexatious litigant. 

Every time PETA files a case, it should have to file a bond. If the case is frivolous, it should be dismissed and stiff monetary sanctions imposed against it, as well as attorney’s fees to the sued person or business.

I also hope litigants who win these frivolous cases–particularly businesses that can afford the cost–sue PETA for malicious prosecution and other similar torts. Punitive damages should be in the mix.

Until and unless that happens–until it costs PETA more than benefits them from bringing these bogus lawsuits–these fanatics will continue to abuse our justice system and benefit from the publicity and donations its wrongdoing generates. 


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