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A Breakdown of Animal Law


Today’s post kicks off a new weekly feature by focusing on an area of law that is a little off the beaten path. This week’s topic: animal law. So, strap yourselves in and get ready for some lions and tigers and bears. (You were expecting an “oh my,” weren’t you? That’ll teach you to make assumptions.)

Now, thanks to Charlie Kelly, I was an expert on bird law long before I started researching this topic, but I was less familiar with the wider practice area that is animal law. Generally speaking, animal law refers to the set of statutes and case law covering animals used in entertainment and research, animals raised for food, and companion animals. For a detailed list of both federal and state case law on the subject, you can visit the Animal Law Resource Center website.

Animal law is a growing practice area. Currently, animal law is taught at over hundred American law schools, and its international presence is growing. The Student Animal Legal Defense Fund—which has a pretty fantastic logo—has chapters at schools across the country, including right here at Columbia. If you’re interested in the practice area, here’s one site’s list of the best schools for animal law.

One of the appealing aspects of animal law is that it allows a practitioner to experience a variety of different practice areas. Animal law intersects with many different areas of the law, including torts (wrongful death of a companion animal), property (trusts for companion animals adopted across state lines), and criminal law (anti-cruelty laws). Animal law gives you the opportunity to feel great about yourself for protecting the rights of our furry friends, and it ensures that you’ll never get stuck in the rut of focusing on only one particular type of case.

To close, I thought I would highlight one legal development in the area of animal law that I found especially interesting. If you spend as much time on the Internet as me, you might’ve come across these monkey selfies. Well, those majestic images came about when a photographer left his camera unattended—a female black macaque took several hundred photographs with it. (I’m going to take the high road and avoid making any jokes about what “macaque” sounds like…and whether one should be allowed to take selfies.) The photographer attempted to copyright the images. In an interesting turn of events, the U.S. Copyright Office responded by explicitly stating that works by non-humans are not copyrightable.

Enough monkey business! (Can’t say I feel great about that joke). I hope this post has taught you something about the interesting practice of animal law. Check in next week for another practice area spotlight.