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Monkey Selfie Copyright Lawsuit Headed to Appeals Court
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The infamous “monkey selfie.” Photo courtesy of CNBC.

Summary: The “monkey selfie” lawsuit is heading to appeals court on Wednesday. 

The monkey selfie lawsuit has gone bananas! After a court ruled that a monkey did not own the copyright to his self-taken picture, PETA filed an appeal, and now the case is headed to court next Wednesday, according to The Hollywood Reporter. 


The 9th Circuit will hear the case of monkey Naruto, represented by a legal team from PETA, who took a self-portrait in 2011 using a wildlife photographer’s camera. The photographer, David Slater, then took that photo and uploaded it online, where it quickly went viral. Slater published the photo in a book and made other money from the image, but PETA said that Naruto was the actual owner of the picture and had been exploited.

In 2015, when the case was first filed, Slater said that the legal battle had hurt his career.

“This is ruining my business,” Slater said. “If it was a normal photograph and I had claimed I had taken it, I would potentially be a lot richer than I am.”

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According to THR, the author of a photo is the copyright owner under U.S. copyright law, and PETA said that Naruto, an Indonesian crested macaque, should get the photograph’s proceeds, not Slater. PETA said that just because Naruto was not a human did not mean he didn’t have rights.

Monkey rights have not been determined yet in American courts, so this should be an interesting case.

In filing the lawsuit, PETA approached Antje Engelhardt, a primatologist who knew Naruto since his birth, and Engelhardt agreed to be the monkey’s “next friend,” a term used to support people with developmental disabilities who needed assistance in legal matters. Engelhardt said she joined so that Naruto’s money would go towards protecting his species; but she later dropped out of the suit.

“I have always felt that one of my duties as Naruto’s Next Friend was to ensure that he/his case does not get exploited for other purposes than getting him the copyright,” Engelhardt told THR.

Slater said that since Engelhardt walked away from the lawsuit that PETA no longer had a case, but PETA won’t back down fighting to protect the jungle mammal.

In January 2016, U.S. District Judge William Orrick ruled against Naruto, stating the monkey did not have standing to sue. PETA appealed and argued that the U.S. Copyright Act did not explicitly require human ownership. PETA also said that it has assumed the vacated role of Naruto’s next friend.

“Naruto remains the plaintiff, and PETA is serving as his next friend, which is sufficient for the case,” PETA said in a statement through its lawyer. “Until recently, humans had no idea that monkeys are intelligent problem-solvers who use language and have the ability to learn, maintain complex relationships, and sometimes even outsmart us — and human understanding of monkeys continues to evolve. In this case, Naruto the macaque — who has been accustomed to cameras throughout his life — intentionally picked up a camera, watched his reflection in the lens and made various faces while continually pressing the shutter button, which resulted in many photos. By granting ownership of the images to this monkey, the court could — for the first time in history — declare an animal the owner of property rather than a piece of property himself.”

Slater’s attorney Andrew Dhuey said that PETA has no relationship to Naruto and that PETA had actually mistreated Engelhardt.

“How can PETA, having alleged no relationship with Naruto, be a suitable ‘next friend’ for him when PETA’s relationship with the primatologist who does allege a lifelong relationship with him has soured to the point that PETA’s general counsel had her arrested for criminal trespass and harassment?” Dhuey said.

The case will start next Wednesday and will be live-streamed on The Hollywood Reporter website.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

What do you think of PETA’s lawsuit? Let us know in the comments below. 


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