On September 11th, a joint motion to dismiss an appeal and vacate a previous judgment was entered into the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ended a copyright case ongoing between a British photograph and a monkey. The settlement ends a two-year case filed on behalf of the primate over selfie photos taken by that animal using the photographer’s equipment.
PETA, photographer settle copyright ownership of monkey selfie
In September 2015, a complaint was filed in the Northern District of California on behalf of Naruto, at the time a six-year-old crested macaque residing in the Tangkoko Reserve located on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Around 2011, the complaint alleges that Naruto used a camera which was left unattended by photographer David John Slater to take a series of photographs, one of which was a selfie of Naruto. In 2014, Slater worked with the self-publishing platform Blurb to create a book sold for profit, which included the Naruto selfie.
The plaintiffs representing Naruto in the copyright case where the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), as well as Dr. Antje Englehardt, a primatologist and ethologist who is an authority on crested macaques and has monitored Naruto since his birth. The plaintiffs argued that Naruto is the author of the monkey selfie and has the right to own and benefit from the copyright to that photo. “Had the Monkey Selfies been made by a human using Slater’s unattended camera, that human would be declared the photographs’ author and copyright owner,” the complaint reads. Although the plaintiffs acknowledge that claims of authorship by members of species other than homo sapiens are novel, they argue that 17 U.S.C. § 101 defines authorship broadly enough that Naruto should be afforded a claim of copyright ownership.
In January 2016, Northern California federal judge William Orrick entered an order granting a motion to dismiss the case to the defendant Slater. Judge Orrick concluded that the Copyright Act does not confer ownership of copyright to animals, so Naruto does not have standing in the case. The court accepted all of the plaintiffs’ arguments as true but found that Naruto didn’t have standing based on the standard set by the Ninth Circuit’s 2004 decision in Cetacean Community v. Bush, which found that the language of Article III of the Copyright Act reflected any Congressional intent to confer standing upon animals in court cases. Citing to that case, Judge Orrick noted that if Congress and the President intended to authorize animals as legal entities with the right to sue, they would have said so plainly.
PETA and Dr. Englehardt appealed the order to dismiss the case in March 2016 and oral arguments in the case were heard by the Ninth Circuit this July. The settlement ending the appeal reflected PETA’s stance that Naruto shouldn’t be forced to acquiesce to the district court’s judgment as to standing. However, both parties requested the Ninth Circuit to dismiss the appeal and remand the case back to district court with instructions to decide whether it was appropriate to vacate the judgment.