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Quick Summary of Laws Concerning Animals in Film Media

Vincent Rizzo

Animal Legal & Historical Center
Publish Date:
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law
Printable Version

Quick Summary of Laws Concerning Animals in Film Media

The many unfortunate reports of animal abuse in the entertainment industry raise serious concerns about the use of animal actors in filmed media. Neither the federal government nor the states have implemented any laws specifically addressing this concern. The federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) though have limited, indirect application to animal actors. State cruelty laws and state laws prohibiting animal cruelty depictions also touch upon the issue. Beyond these indirect legal protections, the only animal actor specific regulation is the industry-based Animal Humane Association’s (AHA) guidelines.

By indirectly regulating the private parties that rent animals to film producers, the AWA protects animal actors. Such private parties meet the AWA’s definition of “exhibitors,” and consequently, must obtain a license and follow certain humane standards of care and treatment. Additionally, film producers may be prohibited from using certain species that have been declared endangered or threatened by the ESA. Most importantly, the ESA makes it unlawful to harm any endangered species and in most cases, threatened species as well.

States also fail to directly protect animal actors but all states prohibit animal cruelty and animal neglect. These laws would generally apply to animals used in filmed media as there appears to be no exceptions for film producers.  In addition to these laws, a select few states criminalize the filming of animal cruelty.

Lastly, the AHA monitors how animals are treated in Screen Actors Guild productions. The AHA enforces a set of guidelines that producers must follow when using animal actors and also requires producers to follow certain steps in order to earn the end credit disclaimer “No Animals Were Harmed.” 


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