News & Politics

Relief: Monkey Can't Own Copyright to Selfie that Went Viral

A tiny ray of hope that society has not gone to the dogs — or, in this case, the monkeys.

A federal judge — that’s right, a federal judge — who obviously had nothing better to do, ruled that a ” a macaque monkey that took a series of Internet-famous selfies cannot own the images’ copyright.”

The monkey, Naratu, is being represented by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which maintains, with a straight face, that Naratu is the “author and owner” of the photos.

USA Today:

U.S. District Judge William Orrick said in a court opinion Wednesday that there was no indication that the Copyright Act extends to animals, AP reported.

The suit was filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals last year, and sought a court order allowing the organization to represent the monkey and manage any proceeds the image occurred for the benefit of the animal and its community.

PETA identified the monkey as a 6-year-old male named Naruto. The organization maintained that Naruto is the “author and owner” of the series of photos and should be recognized as such.

The images were taken in the Indonesian jungle in 2011 with a camera owned by British photographer David Slater. The selfies were taken after Slater left the camera unattended, according to AP,

Because the monkey took the pictures and not Slater, some news outlets and organizations, like Wikimedia Foundation, have argued that the image can be used in the public sphere because Slater does not own the copyright.

A concept that Slater wholeheartedly disagrees with.

“It took three days of blood, sweat and tears to get the selfie in which I had to be accepted by the group of monkeys before they would allow me to come close enough to introduce them to my camera equipment,” Slater told the BBC in 2015.

In August, the U.S. copyright office agreed with Wikipedia that a “photo taken by a monkey” cannot be copyrighted, Ars Technica reported.

Slater currently has a British copyright for the images and thinks the copyright should be recognized worldwide, AP reported.

In September, PETA Director Mimi Bekhechi said the lawsuit would be a major victory in recognizing animal rights.

How do you suppose PETA was going to “manage any proceeds” from the copyright? Build the monkey a nice home? Give him indoor plumbing? Maybe buy him a Mrs. Naratu?

Animals have rights to life, to the best care possible, and to decent treatment by humans. But a copyright is intellectual property — a concept that could never be grasped by a monkey. It was a ludicrous suit to begin with and the judge should have tossed it and made PETA pay the court costs.