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Monkey can't sue to copyright protect selfie, court rules
July 20 2018, 08:19 | Rex Rios
Copyright suit not allowed for selfie-taking monkey
Here's a snapshot of how this monkey business ended up in a federal appellate court: In 2011, photographer David Slater set up his camera in an Indonesian forest, and Naruto, a crested macaque, snapped some photos of himself.
Another member of the panel, Judge N. Randy Smith, added a partially concurring opinion, arguing that the case should be dismissed because "next friend" status - the legal relationship PETA claimed to Naruto in its lawsuit on the monkey's behalf - can not apply to animals. Even though the photo is brilliant and unique, it's unlikely Slater will make that much off it since he doesn't own the copyright to it; the US Copyright ruled back in 2014 that humans can not claim copyright of "works created by nature, animals or plants". 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.
It was not clear how much the photograph has been worth to Slater, who previously said that fewer than 100 copies of his self-published book had been sold, despite the publicity.
In a statement, PETA's general counsel, Jeff Kerr, complained that Naruto was discriminated against because "he's a nonhuman animal". The judge said the law appeared to reserve that power only for humans. "We gravely doubt that PETA can validly assert "next friend" status to represent claims made for the monkey", it said, in its ruling. In it, they demanded the monkey to be declared the real owner of the images.
PETA and Slater subsequently filed a joint motion to dismiss the case, but the Ninth Circuit denied the motions.
Monday's ruling will not affect the settlement, according to Kerr.
Slater, in an email to The Washington Post, said he was "thoroughly delighted" with the outcome of the case and that attorneys' fees were granted. Judge N Randy Smith also referred to PETA's lawsuit as "frivolous", and noted that PETA doesn't seem to have any sort of relationship with the monkey it claims to be fighting on behalf of.
"I was making no money from photography, which is a hard industry to begin with", Slater, 53, said.
The judges even went as far as accusing PETA of using the monkey as a pawn: "Puzzlingly, while representing to the world that 'animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way, '..."