It’s a question that has been on everyone’s mind: can a monkey own the copyright to its own selfie? A recent case set out to find the answer.
The plaintiff was Naruto, a crested macaque living in an Indonesian reserve. The defendant was David Slater, a photographer who left his camera unattended, only to have Naruto pick it up and snap some (pretty adorable) selfies.
So, who owns the copyright to those images? The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) believed that the monkey did, so they sued Slater in 2015.
The case was dismissed by a federal court in 2016, but PETA filed an appeal. In July 2017, Slater and PETA reached an out-of-court agreement. PETA agreed to drop the case, and Slater agreed to donate 25% of his profits from the images to charities to protect Naruto.
In April, the court chose to reject the request to dismiss the case in order to set a legal precedent for future cases.
In a unanimous opinion, Judge Carlos Bea wrote for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, “We must determine whether a monkey may sue humans, corporations, and companies for damages and injunctive relief arising from claims of copyright infringement. 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. We therefore affirm the judgment of the district court.”
In a footnote, the majority points to issues that granting copyright to animals would cause.
“If animals may sue, who may represent their interests? If animals have property rights, do they also have corresponding duties? How do we prevent people (or organizations, like PETA) from using animals to advance their human agendas?”
So, there you have it. Monkeys may see, monkeys may do, but monkeys cannot sue.