Copyright for animals?

And then, of course, the question arises: who actually owns the copyrights to Pigcasso’s phenomenal paintings? After Pigcasso’s death, do those rights lie with the owner Lefson? Or did Pigcasso have time for posterity in addition to his creative endeavors, and perhaps the copyrights pass to the piglets? But can animals own copyrights at all?

The artist with his work Magnificent Messi. For sale for 37,000 Rand (approx. €1,800). Photo


In 2011, a huge debate erupted in the U.S. over a monkey that ran off with photographer David Slater’s camera in the jungles of Indonesia and accidentally shot some beautiful selfies. When the photos went “viral,” Slater claimed that the copyrights belonged to him and tried in vain to have the photos removed from Wikipedia. But didn’t those rights belong to the monkey?

© aap
© Monkey?

Lawsuit on behalf of monkey

The case took a striking turn when the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) suddenly filed a lawsuit against Slater on behalf of the monkey. However, the monkey lost. In 2016, US courts held that only humans can own copyrights, animals cannot. It is generally believed that this rule also applies in the rest of the world.

Joanne Lefson with Pigcasso at one of his creations. Photo Lefson +

Oeuvre Pigcasso royalty-free

In short, neither owner Joanne Lefson nor any Pigcasso descendants own the copyrights to the deceased pig’s oeuvre. Animals cannot own copyrights. If an elephant makes a cute drawing in the sand with its trunk, no copyrights arise either. Therefore, anyone is free to publish Pigcasso’s work and this was the case even before his death.

Trademark rights Picasso

But what about the name Pigcasso? I still see a risk there. Indivision Picasso, the organization that manages the rights of the painter Picasso on behalf of the heirs, owns a large number of trademark registrations of the name Picasso. With that, I think they could quite easily stop the commercial exploitation of art under the Pigcasso name. Anyway, apparently the Picasso heirs are letting this one run its course. They probably don’t fancy a mud fight.

Bas Kist

Bas Kist is mede-oprichter van Merkenbureau Chiever. Hij schrijft regelmatig artikelen over merken- en auteursrecht in de Volkskrant en Adformatie. Daarnaast is hij docent bij de European Institute for Brand management EURIB.