24 April 2018Copyright

Monkeys can’t own copyright, rules Ninth Circuit

Naruto, a Macaque monkey, lacks standing to sue for copyright infringement, according to a ruling from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Yesterday, April 23, the Federal Circuit handed down its decision in an infamous ‘monkey selfie’ dispute between a photographer and the P eople for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Naruto took a ‘selfie’ using photographer David Slater’s camera in Indonesia. The photo soon went viral, prompting a dispute over who owned the copyright.

In its 2015 complaint, PETA requested that any profits derived from the photo should be spent on the monkey and preserving its habitat, as the copyright belongs to him.

In July last year, the Ninth Circuit heard arguments from both parties.

Slater argued that he had engineered the photographs in 2008 by travelling to an Indonesia jungle, spending time with the monkeys to gain their trust, and deliberately making his camera accessible to the animals to take photographs.

Two months later, the parties reached a settlement. As part of the settlement, 25% of future proceeds from “any or all of the monkey selfies” will be donated to charities dedicated to protecting crested macaques in Indonesia.

PETA and Slater subsequently filed a joint motion to dismiss the case, but the Ninth Circuit denied the motions.

A three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit held that Naruto lacked statutory standing because the Copyright Act does not expressly authorise animals to file a copyright infringement suit.

“We gravely doubt that PETA can validly assert ‘next friend’ status to represent claims made for the monkey both (1) because PETA has failed to allege any facts to establish the required significant relationship between a next friend and a real party in interest and (2) because an animal cannot be represented, under our laws, by a ‘next friend’,” added the court.

The court said that the complaint included facts “sufficient to establish Article III standing because it alleged that the
monkey was the author and owner of the photographs and had suffered concrete and particularised economic harms”, but that the monkey didn’t have standing under the Copyright Act.

According to Jeff Kera, PETA’s general counsel, the court reaffirmed that animals have the constitutional right to bring a case, but the “opinion still missed the point”.

Denying Naruto the right to sue under the Copyright Act “emphasises what PETA has argued all along—that he is discriminated against simply because he’s a nonhuman animal”, said Kera.

Lawyer Andrew Dhuey, who represented Slater, said his client was “very grateful” that the court agreed with his positions and hopes that the ruling will be “beneficial for animal welfare”.

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More on this story

13 September 2017   Yesterday, WIPR reported that the ‘monkey selfie’ dispute between a photographer and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had reached a settlement. We spoke to UK lawyers to find out whether a case like this would ever succeed in the UK courts.
12 September 2017   The infamous ‘monkey selfie’ dispute between a photographer and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has reached a settlement.