Court rejects PETA’s copyright lawsuit on behalf of selfie-taking monkey

Jeffrey Kerr, general counsel to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, speaks to reporters outside of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, San Francisco, July 12, 2017 | Associated Press file photo by Jeff Chiu, St. George News

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — U.S. copyright law does not allow lawsuits that seek to give animals rights to photographs or other original work, limiting such claims to humans, a federal appeals court ruled Monday in a novel case over a series of well-known selfies taken by a monkey in Indonesia.

Naruto, a crested black macaque picked up an unattended camera and took several photos of himself making different faces, date and locaton unspecified | Photo courtesy of, St. George News

The decision by a unanimous, three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that also dismissed the lawsuit by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals against a photographer whose camera was used by a crested macaque to take the photos in 2011.

PETA’s 2015 suit against David Slater sought financial control of the photographs — including a now-famous selfie of the monkey’s toothy grin — for the benefit of the animal named Naruto.

Jeff Kerr, general counsel for PETA, said the group was reviewing the opinion and had not decided yet whether it would appeal.

“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 to not be human,” Kerr said.

The problem for Naruto, however, was that copyright law did not “expressly authorize animals to file copyright infringement suits,” Ninth Circuit Judge Carlos Bea said in the ruling. The judge said the law appeared to reserve that power only for humans.

The court ruled that Slater was entitled to attorneys’ fees in the case and sent it back to the district court to determine the amount.

Naruto snapped the photos with an unattended camera while Slater was on a trip to Sulawesi, Indonesia. Slater later argued that his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd., owned worldwide commercial rights to the photos.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick said in a ruling in 2016 that “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 that ruling to the 9th Circuit.

Following oral arguments, Slater and PETA announced in September that they had reached a settlement under which Slater agreed to donate 25 percent of any future revenue from the images to charities dedicated to protecting crested macaques in Indonesia.

Lawyers then asked the 9th Circuit to dismiss the case and throw out Orrick’s decision.

But the appeals court refused, saying a decision in this “developing area of the law” would help guide lower courts and considerable public resources had been spent on the case.

Kerr said Monday the 9th Circuit ruling would not affect the settlement.

Written by SUDHIN THANAWALA, Associated Press

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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  • PlanetU April 23, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    I’m not even sure what side to take on this except I thought it was a fake story. Great picture monkey Naruto.

  • comments April 23, 2018 at 11:22 pm

    Since the monkey can’t own the copyright I figure it should just be non-copyrightable– fully public domain.

  • Azing April 24, 2018 at 1:24 am

    That monkey will become Hokage someday

  • ladybugavenger April 24, 2018 at 6:43 am

    That’s an awesome photo.
    I can’t believe it took a lawsuit to realize an animal doesn’t own intellectual property. A monkey can’t buy a camera. Either can your cat lol. This is a great lawsuit. One that shows the law can try to be manipulated at any cost. Some win, some fail. Can you imagine if it went the other way? I can barely imagine it. It’s a cluster of thoughts.

  • tazzman April 24, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    Monkey see monkey do…or do do. Usually do-do.

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