Court ruling ends 'monkey selfie' battle

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of David Slater after PETA sued the photographer for publishing a selfie taken by a monkey.

Posted: Apr 25, 2018 5:40 PM
Updated: Apr 25, 2018 5:45 PM

Monkey ©. Monkey don't.

Naruto, a crested macaque in Indonesia, has no rights to the (adorable) selfies he took on a nature photographer's camera, according to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court upheld a lower court's previous ruling, which said, basically, that animals can't file copyright infringement suits.

In 2011, Naruto, then 7 years old, snapped several photos of himself with a camera belonging to photographer David John Slater, who was on assignment in Indonesia.

Slater included Naruto's photos in a book he published.

2015 lawsuit

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued Slater and self-publishing company Blurb on Naruto's behalf in 2015. The group argued that publishing and selling the photographs that the monkey took infringed on Naruto's rights under the Copyright Act.

The defendants argued that, as a monkey, Naruto couldn't own a copyright.

In a January 2016 provisional ruling, US District Judge William Orrick agreed with that argument, saying while "Congress and the President can extend the protection of law to animals as well as humans, there is no indication that they did so in the Copyright Act."

PETA appealed the decision.

'The Monkey Selfies'

However the 9th Circuit Court dismissed that appeal in an opinion released Monday.

"Affirming the district court's dismissal of claims brought by a monkey, the panel held that the animal had constitutional standing but lacked statutory standing to claim copyright infringement of photographs known as the 'Monkey Selfies,'" the court said.

"Our court's precedent requires us to conclude that the monkey's claim has standing under Article III of the United States Constitution. Nonetheless, we conclude that this monkey -- and all animals, since they are not human -- lacks statutory standing under the Copyright Act.1 We therefore affirm the judgment of the district court," panel Judge Carlos Bea said.

Expanding legal rights for nonhumans

The 9th Circuit ruling comes after PETA and Slater last year reached a settlement in the dispute.

Under the agreement, Slater agreed to donate 25% of any future revenue derived from using or selling the monkey selfie to charities that protect the crested macaques' habitat in Indonesia, according to a joint statement published on PETA's website.

"PETA and David Slater agree that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for nonhuman animals, a goal that they both support, and they will continue their respective work to achieve this goal," the two parties said.

How did it come to this?

The dispute over the photo's ownership came when it was posted on Wikipedia's free-to-use website. Slater asked that it be taken down.

Wikipedia argued the photo is uncopyrightable because an animal took it.

The image and the legal case attracted international attention, raising complex legal questions about copyright and art when it comes to animals.

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