A US federal appeals court has ruled against People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in its lawsuit claiming that a monkey owned the copyright for a selfie photo.
The panel of judges ruled that Naruto, a “crested macaque,” is not a person and as such does not have legal standing to file a copyright claim against a nature photographer.
If all of this sounds a bit nuts, here’s the backstory. This case dates back to 2011 when British nature photographer was on a shoot in the Tangkoko reserve in Indonesia, and a crested macaque monkey named Naruto got hold of his camera and started snapping pictures of itself.
PETA brought a lawsuit against Slater on behalf of Naruto, claiming that his publication of the picture in a book meant that Naruto’s copyright had been violated, since he and not Slater had taken the picture. In January of 2016, a federal district judge ruled that Naruto could not sue for copyright because he had no legal standing.
The case was then settled between PETA and Slater, with the latter agreeing to donate 25% of all future earnings from the photo to the Tangkoko reserve. Even though the photo is brilliant and unique, it’s unlikely Slater will make that much off it since he doesn’t own the copyright to it; the US Copyright ruled back in 2014 that humans cannot claim copyright of “works created by nature, animals or plants.”
We feel compelled to note that PETA’s deficiencies in this regard go far beyond its failure to plead a significant relationship with Naruto. Indeed, if any such relationship exists, PETA appears to have failed to live up to the title of “friend.” After seeing the proverbial writing on the wall at oral argument, PETA and Appellees filed a motion asking this court to dismiss Naruto’s appeal and to vacate the district court’s adverse judgment, representing that PETA’s claims against Slater had been settled. It remains unclear what claims PETA purported to be “settling,” since the court was under the impression this lawsuit was about Naruto’s claims, and per PETA’s motion, Naruto was “not a party to the settlement,” nor were Naruto’s claims settled therein. Nevertheless, PETA apparently obtained something from the settlement with Slater, although not anything that would necessarily go to Naruto: As “part of the arrangement,” Slater agreed to pay a quarter of his earnings from the monkey-selfie book “to charities that protect the habitat of Naruto and other crested macaques in Indonesia.”
If all this sounds hilarious to you, we urge you to head over to This American Life’s homepage and listen to the podcast in which Slater tells his side of the story. The story of how that picture was taken and the subsequent troubles he had to go through is pretty heart-breaking to listen to.[Picture Credit: CC Naruto]