California Intellectual Property Blog


PETA Sues to Give Monkey Copyright to his Selfie

monkeySan Diego – A monkey named Naruto is the plaintiff in a copyright lawsuit centering on selfies he took in 2011. The not-for-profit organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA), filed the lawsuit on behalf of Naruto and the other Macaques living in a reserve on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

The photos at issue were taken by Naruto with a camera owned by British nature photographer David Slater. While Naruto pressed the button to take the photo, Slater claims he is the intellect behind the photos since he set up and held the tripod throughout the shoot.

Since then, various online outlets distributed the photos, arguing that because an animal took the photo no person can own the copyright. Generally the person that takes a photograph owns the copyright to the photo. The U.S. Copyright Office policy, updated last year, states it, “will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants,” even listing in its example “a photograph taken by a monkey.”

Slater has argued for his right to make money from the photos, but has also donated some of the proceeds to a conservation project working to protect Sulawesi’s macaques. He recently published a book, which includes the monkey selfies, titled Wildlife Personalities, through the San Francisco based company Blurb.

PETA argues that because the book is published in California, a US federal court there has jurisdiction over the case. The organization seeks a court order allowing it to take the proceeds from the photo, including from book sales, and administer it for the benefit of the monkeys living on the reserve. PETA argues that authorship defined under Copyright Act 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq is broad enough to grant a copyright to non-humans.

In the lawsuit, PETA uses quotes from Slater’s book. PETA argues that Naruto should be granted ownership and “Slater himself admits this proposition, writing in his book ‘the recognition that animals have personality and should be granted rights to dignity and property would be a great thing.’”

Slater argues he didn’t mean copyright. On the issue of the lawsuit, he said he was “very saddened” by it because he views himself as an animal rights advocate.

One of PETA’s lawyers, Jeffrey Kerr, claims PETA “has a very strong case.”


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