Can a monkey or other non-human species own a copyright? That was essentially the question in a lawsuit filed by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) back in 2015 on behalf of Naruto the monkey – technically called a crested macaque.
In 2011 Naruto became an overnight sensation when her “selfie” went viral. David J. Slater, a British photographer, went to the Tangkoko Reserve in Indonesia to photograph the endangered primate species. After having no luck getting a face shot, the photographer put his camera on a tripod with a remote trigger. It was shortly after that the curious Naruto approached the camera, pressed the shutter button, and took the famous selfie. And as they say, the rest is history.
PETA filed the lawsuit arguing that Naruto the macaque should be the owner of the copyright of her now famous image. The photographer, who sells signed copies of the print on his website, and whose book titled “Wildlife Personalities” feature the “monkey selfie,” disagreed claiming that the images were taken under his production and with his equipment.
In a tentative opinion written in 2016, U.S. District Judge William Orrick stated that there was “no indication that the U.S. Copyright Act extended to animals.” The case was summarily dismissed. Shortly after, PETA filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and on July 12th of this year the first oral arguments were heard in a San Francisco courtroom. Then in August both parties requested that the court not rule on the case because they were close to reaching a settlement.
On September 11th a settlement was reached. The photographer agreed, going forward, to donate 25% of any future proceeds from the photograph to organizations that protect the crested macaque. PETA stated they were pleased the case brought to light vital issues dealing with expanding legal rights to non-human animals. Although he claims he suffered financially, the photographer agrees.
So as judge Orrick originally ruled, current copyright law does not apply to any non-human species.
That’s it for now. I am Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Join my conversation on my Law Facebook Page, my Law Twitter Page, my Google+ Page, and in a discussion on my LinkedIn Page.