As has been long expected, a California federal judge dismissed a copyright infringement suit brought on behalf of a monkey. Naruto the macaque swung into the spotlight in 2014 when he took a photo of himself using a camera that had been set up by British nature photographer David Slater. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) brought suit against Slater for publishing the photo in a book, claiming that Naruto was the rightful author of the photo, and copyright ownership belonged to the macaque.
U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick III ruled on January 29th that a monkey does not have standing to sue for copyright infringement. Orrick cited Cetacean Cmty. V. Bush, 386 F.3d 1169, 1175 (9th Cir. 2004), which found that while Article III of the Constitution does not preclude animals from ever bringing suit, such a suit would need to be “plainly” authorized by a statute. In this instance Orrick found that since the Copyright Act does not include animals in its definition of “author,” animals do not qualify for “authorship” under the Act and cannot bring suit for copyright infringement. In addition, the Supreme Court and 9th Circuit have used the phrases “persons” or “human beings” in discussing the meaning of authorship under the Copyright Act.
Responding to PETA’s claim that this result is “antithetical” to the “tremendous [public] interest in animal art,” Orrick said that this “is an argument that should be made to Congress and the President, not me.” Though Slater has prevailed against Naruto, he now plans to sue Wikipedia for displaying the selfie without Slater’s permission. Slater asserts that he is the author of the photograph, but various publications have printed his photo without a license, assuming that the photo is in the public domain.
Donahue, Bill, ‘Monkey Selfie’ Judge Details Decision To Toss Copyright Suit, LAW 360 (Jan. 29, 2016, 4:24 PM), http://www.law360.com/articles/752753.
Naruto v. Slater, 2016 WL 362231 (2015).
Shipton, Martin, Photographer plans to sue Wikipedia after judge rules monkey doesn’t own the copyright to ‘selfie’ picture, Wales Online (Jan. 7, 2016, 4:51 PM), http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/photographer-plans-sue-wikipedia-after-10699073.