The role of animals in the courts has changed slightly since Pigs were murderers sometime in the Middle Ages, but that does not mean that animals have stayed out of court since. For this blog post, I wanted to examine some other recent cases in which animals were the focus of a court ruling, and see if there was any connection that could be drawn to the readings, in terms of how animals were viewed in terms of the law.
The most notable example to come out in recent years was the “Monkey Selfie” case which was decided in 2014. Back in 2011, a wildlife photographer traveled Indonesia to take photos of crested macaques. In the process, one of the monkeys took one of the cameras, and somehow snapped a picture or two which could be identified as a “selfie.” Wikipedia, who one would think would be an unlikely target for legislation, became the defendant in a copyright lawsuit after they posted the macaque’s photo on their website. Slater sued, claiming that the photos were in fact his, and that Wikipedia could not post the image for free without payment or requesting the photo from the him. . The Wikimedia company argued that the photos were in the public domain, as they were taken by the macaque, and macaque’s are not subject to copyright protection.
Shortly after the controversy, and shortly before the case were to be brought to court, The U.S Copyright Office released an updated version of their Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, which governs what is and isn’t considered to be copyrighted material. In it, they specified that “Copyright law only protects the fruits of intellectual labor that are founded in the creative powers of the mind.” Among the items which is declared outside the bounds of copyright included murals painted by elephants, patterns occurring in stones or skins, and, in what was certainly not coincidence, “a photograph taken by a monkey.” Meanwhile, law in the UK and Indonesia both illustrated that only a human creator of content could receive copyright protection. With this distinction made by the Copyright Office and with other laws internationally, the case was ultimately never brought to court.
So if your dog ever plays fetch with your selfie stick, know any photos taken are in the public domain.
What about examples in court? In a paper written by Cass Sunstein at the University of Chicago Law School, Sunstein examined in what cases animals would have legal standing to challenge their mistreatment, and in what cases humans would be able to raise a challenge on their behalf. Obviously, an animal cannot walk into a courthouse and file paperwork, as thumbs and the use of utensils are prerequisites for filling out said paperwork. But what about representing an animal, or its interests? As it currently stands, one could not, for example, represent a wounded bear in suit against a hunter. For one to have standing on behalf of the animal, a presumptive plaintiff must show three things. First, that an injury of some sort (physical or mental) has occurred, second, that it was the result of a defendant’s action, and third, that the problem would be redressed by a ruling in the plaintiff’s behalf. If, say, a company’s polluting a riverbed and killing fish, a fisherman could have standing if they can demonstrate that the conditions have changed to the point that their annual fishing trip can no longer be undertaken.
That requirement of a personal, human effect has often been the focal point of arguments on standing. In one case, Animal Lovers Volunteer Association v. Weinberger, the plaintiffs sought to enjoin aerial shooting of goats on a military enclave for which public access is unavailable. The court held that standing was unavailable because the members did not visit the enclave hence lacked any concrete injury. On the other hand, in Japan Whaling Assn. v. American Cetacean Soc., the court held that the organizations, who were dedicated to whale watching and the study of whales, had standing, because the legislation they challenged would have allowed greater whale fishing and, thus, removed opportunities to study the animals.
None of this is to say that animals have the same legal protections as, say, a mailbox or fence. In 2012, a California court ruled that pets, at least, are fundamentally different than other forms of property. California’s Second District Court of Appeals ruled that an aggrieved party was entitled to compensation greater than just market value for an injured animal. Unlike if a guitar or furniture was broken, the loss or injury to a domesticated pet would be greater, tied to emotional distress and other factors.
Obviously, we have come a long way from Pigs being on trial. Now, with animals lacking legal standing, we don’t see animals trotted to the gallows. But as humanity has become more environmentally conscious, we face a new series of issues. As Duke Philip the Bold of Burgundy had to grant petitions of pardon, different officials must decide the fate of animals in court. Today, though, the rule of law is strictly human, and the right to trial is strictly human as well. We may very well argue the idea of “Animal Rights,” but in terms of the courts, all rights start with standing, and animals do not have standing now, and may never. Someday, societies may look back at our relationship to animals as barbaric, in the same way we look back at pigs on trial and scoff. But for now, we live in a world in which humans can only protect animals, and only when they themselves have been harmed.
- Jeramee Gwozdz
 Jeong, Sarah. “Wikipedia’s monkey selfie ruling is a travesty for the world’s monkey artists.” The Guardian. August 6, 2014. Accessed May 24, 2015
 ITN. “Monkey photo not photographer’s, claims Wikimedia – video.” The Guardian. August 7th, 2014. Accessed May 24, 2015.
 Chappell, Bill. "Who Owns A Monkey's Selfie? No One Can, U.S. Says." NPR. August 22, 2014. Accessed May 24, 2015.
 Sunstein, Cass. “Standing for Animals.” Chicago Public Law and Legal Theory. The Law School, The University of Chicago.
 Sunstein 18.
 Dinzelbacher, Peter. “Animal Trials A Multidisciplinary Approach.” Journal of Interdisciplinary history, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Winter, 2002,) pp 405-421.