Monkey-selfie lawsuit finally ends: Court affirms adorable macaque can't sue

Elias Hubbard
April 24, 2018

PETA attorney David Schwarz argued that Naruto was accustomed to cameras and took the selfies when he saw himself in the reflection of the lens.

Naruto - a crested macaque whose 2011 selfie was seen around the world - would be crushed to learn that a panel of federal judges in San Francisco ruled Monday that animals can't sue for the rights to intellectual property. The photographer later published the photos. Who else but the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) would sue on behalf of a monkey who mimicked tourists taking selfies?

The case dates back to 2011, when British nature photographer David Slater was on a shoot on the Tangkoko reserve in Indonesia.

A federal judge in San Francisco dismissed the case, prompting an appeal to the 9th Circuit.

Judge Carlos Bea, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote Monday's decision for a three-judge panel.

In a partly concurring opinion, Ninth Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith wrote that the case should have been dismissed for a different reason: because "next friend" status does not apply to animals. The suit was not allowed to proceed, however, as the relevant environmental laws did not extend standing to animals. The court agreed that apes satisfied the requirements of standing under the Constitution: the ape suffered a tangible injury directly traceable to Slater's actions. Based on controlling case law and the text of the U.S. Copyright Act, the court held Naruto, as a non-human animal, lacks standing to file this suit. But as in the Cetacean case, the Copyright Act makes no reference to animal standing, warranting the case's dismissal. Because PETA lacks standing to sue on behalf of Naruto, Smith said, the case should have been dismissed before reaching the question of Naruto's standing under the Copyright Act.

Slater and PETA settled the dispute in September 2017. Nevertheless, PETA apparently obtained something from the settlement with Slater, although not anything that would necessarily go to Naruto: As "part of the arrangement", Slater agreed to pay a quarter of his earnings from the monkey-selfie book "to charities that protect the habitat of Naruto and other crested macaques in Indonesia". The 9th Circuit decided a decision should still be issued to provide another authority for the growing body of animal rights law. Indeed, if any such relationship exists, PETA appears to have failed to live up to the title of "friend".

The court skewers PETA and its motives in several footnotes throughout the opinion.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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