Macaque monkey, Naruto's selfie snaps. (WikiMedia/David Slater)
Monkey does not own rights to selfie
January 12, 2016
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A macaque monkey who took now-famous selfie photographs cannot be declared the copyright owner of the photos, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick said in San Francisco 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 lawsuit was filed last year by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and it sought a court order allowing them to represent the monkey. PETA wanted the court to let it administer all proceeds from the photos for the benefit of the monkey, which was identified as 6-year-old Naruto, and other crested macaques living in a reserve. They live on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
The photos were taken during a 2011 trip to Sulawesi, using an unattended camera owned by British nature photographer David Slater. He asked the court to dismiss the case. Slater said the British copyright obtained for the photos by his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd., should be honored worldwide.
PETA sued Slater and his San Francisco-based self-publishing company Blurb. The company published a book called "Wildlife Personalities." The book includes the "monkey selfie" photos.
The photos have been widely distributed elsewhere including on Wikipedia. Those outlets contend that no one owns the copyright to the images. They say that's because they were taken by an animal, not a person.
In court documents, Slater described himself as a nature photographer who is deeply concerned about animal welfare. He said it should up to the U.S. Congress and not a federal court to decide whether copyright law applies to animals.
Jeff Kerr is general counsel for PETA. He said the organization will continue fighting for the monkey's rights.
"Despite this setback, legal history was made today," Kerr said. "Because we argued to a federal court why Naruto should be the owner of the copyright rather than being seen as a piece of property himself. This case is also exposing the hypocrisy of those who exploit animals for their own gain."
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why did it matter who owned the rights to the photo?
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