Bartow Collection News: ‘Monkey-selfie’ case ends as US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rules no copyright for animals

Our friends at IP Magazine report today:


Animals do not have “statutory standing to sue under the US Copyright Act”, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has held.

Passing opinion in Naruto, a Crested Macaque, by and through his next friends, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) v David John Slater; Blurb; Wildlife Personalities, Circuit Judge Carlos T Bea dismissed accusations brought by a monkey claiming copyright infringement of photographs known as the ‘monkey selfies’.

Affirming a 2016 US District Court of California verdict, the circuit concluded that the lower court “did not err” in concluding that Naruto, a crested black macaque, and more broadly animals other than humans, cannot seek copyright protection.

“We must determine whether a monkey may sue humans, corporations, and companies for damages and injunctive relief arising from claims of copyright infringement. Our court’s precedent requires us to conclude that the monkey’s claim has standing under Article III of the US Constitution,” Judge Bea said.

“The monkey – and all animals, since they are not human – lacks statutory standing under the Copyright Act. We therefore affirm the judgment of the district court,” he ruled.

PETA stated that it will “continue working until the last barrier falls and animals’ fundamental rights are recognised under the law, including their rights as creators.”

Specifically, the suit centred around photos taken by a macaque called Naruto, with an unattended camera owned by UK photographer David Slater, during a 2011 trip.

Animal rights campaign group PETA sued Slater et al after they published a book called Wildlife Personalities that includes the ‘monkey selfie’ pictures.

The photos were widely distributed elsewhere by outlets, including Wikipedia, which contended that no one owns the copyright to the images because they were taken by an animal, not a person.

Slater, who asked the US District Court of California to dismiss the case, argued the UK copyright obtained for the photos by his company, also called Wildlife Personalities, should be honoured worldwide.

In 2016, US District Judge William Orrick held that Naruto could not be declared the copyright owner of the photos.

After two years of court battles, the parties reached a settlement whereby Slater agreed to donate 25% of any future revenue derived from using or selling the monkey selfies to charities that protect the Indonesian habitat of Naruto and other crested macaques.

Additionally, in one key issue, the parties also agreed to request the court vacate the 2016 district court’s ruling that animals cannot copyright works they create, as the “plaintiff is not a party to the settlement”.

This meant that PETA could bring a new claim as a ‘next friend’ of Naruto’s – which allows a petitioner to bring a suit on behalf of a party unable to litigate his own cause due to mental incapacity, lack of access to court, or other similar disability and with whom they have a significant relationship with.

Issuing the new 41-page decision, the circuit explained that it “gravely” doubted PETA could assert next friend status because it had not established a significant relationship with the monkey and, more importantly, because “an animal cannot be represented, under [US] laws, by a 'next friend’”.

Further, the circuit attacked the campaign group commenting that while it represents to the world that ‘animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for’ entertainment, or abuse in any other way,’ PETA seems to employ Naruto as an “unwitting pawn in its ideological goals”.

“Yet this is precisely what is to be avoided by requiring next friends to have a significant relationship with, rather than an institutional interest in, the incompetent party,” Judge Bea stated.

The circuit held that counsel for Slater and Wildlife is entitled to attorneys’ fees and costs for this appeal.

Circuit Judge N R Smith concurred in part with the majority and dissented in part, stating that PETA used Naruto as a “’pawn to be manipulated on a chessboard larger than his own case’” and brought a “frivolous” lawsuit.

“PETA’s real motivation in this case was to advance its own interests, not Naruto’s… PETA began this case purportedly seeking not only an injunction, but also a judgment ‘[d]eclaring Naruto to be the author and copyright owner of the Monkey Selfies with all attendant rights and privileges under law’ and disgorgement,” he said.

“After oral argument, none of those objectives are, apparently, worth pursuing. Rather, when it came down to a possible negative, precedential ruling from the panel, PETA quickly sought to protect the institution, not the claimed real party in interest,” the judge concluded