This article weighs in on the context of monkey selfie suit.

A monkey selfie that went viral dates back in 2011 has caused a fuss in a federal appeals court in San Francisco over copyright claim.

It all started when Naruto, who was then a seven year-old crested macaque, purportedly took a few pictures of itself on the British wildlife photographer David Slater’s camera. Slater was on a shoot on the Tangkoko reserve in Indonesia when his phone was left unattended and Naruto managed to snap an entertaining photo of himself with his toothy grin. Slater later published a book, Wildlife Personalities, which in its images include the so called “monkey selfie” of Naruto. This gave rise to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to sue Slater and the book’s publisher, Blurb, for copyright infringement.

monkey selfie lawsuit ruling

This animal rights group, seeking to represent Naruto, filed a lawsuit in 2015 saying that Naruto’s copyright of the image had been violated. Jeff Kerr, general counsel for PETA, claimed in his statement that Naruto should be considered the author and copyright owner and he shouldn’t be treated any differently from any other creator simply because he happens not to be human.

What is copyright anyway?

Before proceeding to further arguments and claims, let us revisit first some few details of copyright law to give us a clearer view and judgement of the matter.

In the text contained in title 17 of the United States Code, the subject matter of copyright in general sense are works of authorship that include literary works, musical works, dramatic works, pantomimes and choreographic works, pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works, sound recordings, and architectural works. The ownership of copyright is categorized to initial ownership, works made for hire, and contributions to collective works. Copyright applies only to certain copyrightable subject matter. Works that are not “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression” are not subject to copyright.

The court’s ruling

The novel copyright lawsuit on monkey-selfie filed by PETA has finally ended on Monday with the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that Naruto does not have legal standing to file a copyright claim against a nature photographer, as Naruto is not a person.

Despite PETA’s dismissal of the case after a settlement with Slater, appeals court still decided to rule on the matter stating it as a developing area of the law that would help guide lower courts and considerable public resources had been spent on the case until the decision was finally affirmed.

“U.S. copyright law confers the right to sue on humans.” – appeals court

“We must determine whether a monkey may sue humans, corporations, and companies for damages and injunctive relief arising from claims of copyright infringement. We conclude that this monkey — and all animals, since they are not human — lacks statutory standing under the Copyright Act.” – 9th Circuit Judge Carlos Bea

In 2014, US copyright regulators agreed with Wikipedia’s conclusion and said that the photograph taken by the monkey is unprotected intellectual property because under the US law, intellectual property rights to photographs belong to the person who took them but Naruto is not a “person” under the law which made it impossible to take the claim. The US Copyright Office also claimed that the photographs are not copyrightable. In January 2016, a federal district judge in San Francisco ruled that Naruto has no standing given that he is not a person, he could not bring a lawsuit.

The unanimous, three-judge panel upheld a lower court ruling that dismissed the lawsuit.

Now what?

Naruto may not have won the legal rights but he sure still have a chunk of victory under the terms of settlement between PETA and Slater that 25 percent of any future revenue from the images will be donated to charities protecting crested macaques in Indonesia which will not be affected by the ruling of the court.

The PETA lawsuit on “monkey selfie” copyright claim is not the only time in recent years that advocacy groups have sought to extend human rights to animals. An attorney of Nonhuman Rights Project, Steven Wise, had also argued in state courts that elephants and chimpanzees should be treated legally as people with a right to liberty. Last year, appeals court in New York rejected a case involving two chimpanzees and affirmed that there was no legal precedent for the animals being considered people, and their cognitive capabilities didn’t mean they could be held legally accountable for their actions.

While the congress and the president can extend the protection of law to animals as well as humans, there are laws that are subjected to people alone. There are rights that are only set for humans considering the intellectual capacities of men which may held them equally accountable under the law.

How about you? Do you agree with the court in regards to the monkey selfie lawsuit ruling? Or do you side with PETA on this? Share your thoughts.

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