Robots One Step Closer to Being Granted Intellectual Property Rights than Animals

On April 23, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that copyright infringements can only be claimed by humans. In its dismissal of the copyright infringement lawsuit by PETA, the Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that wildlife photographer David Slater was not obligated to share profits with the now famous, selfie-taking monkey known as Naruto.

Currently, the U.S. Copyright Office maintains that non-human entities, which include artificial intelligence, cannot make property right infringement claims.

The European Union, however, is considering creating a specific category of personhood just for robots and other artificial intelligence without altering the existing intellectual property laws. If successful, robots could gain intellectual property rights before animals.

Elephants paint, monkeys snap selfies, and robots write novels, but according to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, none of them can claim infringements on their intellectual property. In its dismissal of the copyright infringement lawsuit brought by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on behalf of Naruto, the selfie-taking monkey, the 9th U.S.

Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by a lower court that only humans can claim to have intellectual property rights. Because Naruto used wildlife photographer David Slater’s camera, Slater was recognized as the human owner of the photographs, and, therefore, also copyright holder and financial beneficiary of said copyright.

Some experts fear that this ruling will set a precedent for how the issue of intellectual property rights will be handled in relation to artificial intelligence as well. Following the original trial in 2014, the U.S. Copyright Office updated its compendium regarding what could be registered for a copyright.

Included on the list of items that were not eligible, were any works produced by machines that operated without the intervention of a human being. Experts such as John Frank Weaver, worry that if we don’t grant creative artificial intelligence rights to what robots produce, we undermine the value of intelligence itself. In failing to recognize the complex work done by artificial intelligence, we dis-incentivize it, and, in turn, slow down our own human progress.

Driven by such concerns, there are those in the European Union who are lobbying to create a category of personhood specifically for robots. Others have recommended copyright by human proxy, wherein copyrights are held by the robot, but the benefits go to the creators of the artificial intelligence.

As one steps back and looks at these debates, however, it becomes clear that more weight is being given to the consideration of granting rights to robots than to animals. The issue, when it comes to animals, seems to revolve around the argument of cruelty and abusing animals’ vested interests.

Whereas, when people talk about the rights of robots, they seem interested in protecting the rights of those who created the intelligence in the first place. We cannot see ourselves in the animal’s position, but we do not wish to devalue the work we have put into creating something that may become greater than ourselves.

Ali Raza
Ali Raza
Ali Raza is a freelance journalist with extensive experience in marketing and management. He holds a master degree and actively writes about crybersecurity, cryptocurrencies, and technology in general. Raza is the co-founder of, too, a site dedicated to educating people on online privacy and spying.

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