Monkey Loses Copyright Case Over Selfie

By Joseph Mandour on January 15, 2016

monkeyLos Angeles – Naruto, the famous macaque monkey behind the monkey selfie, just lost a court case. The not-for-profit organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) filed the lawsuit back in September on behalf of Naruto and the other macaques living on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on a reserve.

The lawsuit was prompted over a photograph and the resulting proceeds for it. The monkey selfie was taken by Naruto with British nature photographer David Slater’s camera. Three different arguments over ownership were made when the photos came out.

While Slater never clicked the button for those photos, he claims he should be viewed as the intellect behind them given he set up and held the tripod throughout the shoot. Thus he argues that he should own the copyright.

PETA argues Naruto owns the photo since he is the living creature who clicked the photograph, as PETA argued in the lawsuit, Naruto “purposely pushed the shutter release multiple times, understanding the cause and effect relationship between pressing the shutter release, the noise of the shutter, and the change to his reflection in the camera lens.”

Multiple online outlets, such as Wikimedia, argued that nobody owned the copyright because an animal took the photo.

The U.S. Copyright Office policy states it “will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants” and provides the example of “a photograph taken by a monkey.”

The Copyright Office’s clear statement on the issue did not deter PETA from filing a lawsuit in hopes of PETA being allowed to represent Naruto and administering proceeds from the photo on his behalf. The proceeds PETA focused on were sales from Slater’s book titled Wildlife Personalities, which includes Naruto’s selfies.

PETA’s argument was that the definition of authorship under the Copyright Act is broad enough to allow for Naruto to be granted copyright. While PETA lost the case, its general counsel Jeff Kerr seemed to express optimism. Kerr states PETA will still work to fight for Naruto’s rights, and that the case was effective at “exposing the hypocrisy of those who exploit animals for their own gain.”

Slater’s attorneys responded to the case by writing in court documents that “a monkey, an animal-rights organization and a primatologist walk into federal court to sue for infringement of the monkey’s claimed copyright. What seems like the setup for a punchline is really happening.”

The judge for the case, William Orrick, ruled that Naruto cannot control rights to the photo and its proceeds because copyright law does not extend to animals.

Related Articles: