Federal Judge Rules Famous Monkey Can’t Own Copyright on Selfies
An Indonesian monkey, a British photographer and a U.S. federal judge meet in San Francisco. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but that’s almost what happened this week when a federal court reviewed PETA’s demand to award Naruto the copyright over the famous selfies he captured in 2011.
Unfortunately for the macaque, who couldn’t be bothered to show up in court, the judge ruled that he cannot own the copyright of the photos as he is a monkey.
This does not mark the end of the copyright battle, however.
U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick ruled that Naruto, or any other animal for that matter, can’t be declared as a copyright owner.
The judge explained his decision and stated that while a monkey could, in theory, be entitled to own copyright, that’s not what the law currently says:
“The Court announces the tentative opinion, in line with the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in Cetacean Community v Bush, 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. The Copyright Office’s Compendium is consistent with the Court’s understanding”.
The compendium the judge referred to is a 1,222-page document released by the U.S. Copyright Office, where it established new polices and reaffirmed existing stances. On the subject of animals (or god) and copyright ownership, the following was said:
“The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants. Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings, although the Office may register a work where the application or the deposit copy state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit”.
PETA’s blog states that this was not a final ruling and that the judge has given the organization 20 days to amend the complaint as he is currently inclined to dismiss it for the above reason.
PETA’s general manager Jeff Kerr, who was also part of the legal team representing Naruto, said this:
“Despite this setback, we are celebrating that legal history was made in our unprecedented argument to a federal court that Naruto, a crested macaque monkey, should be the owner of property (specifically, the copyright to the famous ‘monkey selfie’ photos that he undeniably took), rather than a mere piece of property himself. We will continue to fight for Naruto and his fellow macaques, who are in grave danger of being killed for bush meat or for foraging for food in a nearby village while their habitat disappears because of human encroachment. This case is a vital step toward fundamental rights for nonhuman animals for their own sake, not in relation to how they can be exploited by humans. As my legal mentor used to say, ‘In social-cause cases, historically, you lose, you lose, you lose, and then you win.’ PETA is working hard for that day to come when nonhuman animals’ basic rights are recognized.”
As if PETA’s lawsuit was not weird enough, one of the defenses made by David Slater, the wildlife photographer whose camera was used to take the photos, was that it cannot be proven that Naruto is in fact the monkey in the photos and as such he can’t be declared the copyright holder.
The entire saga began when media outlets, including Wikimedia, used the photos without Slater’s consent and claimed they are in public domain since they were captured by the monkey and not by Slater.
While it seems Naruto will not be granted copyright, Slater is still battling to receive copyright of the photos and continues to claim that the British copyright his company obtained should be respected worldwide.
[via The Guardian]