Court Ridicules PETA as Monkey Copyright Selfie Case is Settled

Court Ridicules PETA as Monkey Copyright Selfie Case is Settled

Common sense has prevailed after a US court ruled animals cannot file copyright infringement lawsuits, in the ongoing case between animal rights group PETA and photographer David Slater.

The final ruling came after the initial decision made by a lower court. The dispute arose when PETA sued Slater in 2015 – doing so, they claim, on behalf of the monkey. PETA allegedly disagreed with Slater profiting from the images since the monkey had been the one to press the shutter and thus was, in theory, the copyright holder.

The opposing sides reached a settlement last year, which in part saw Slater agree to donate 25% of his profits from the photos to charities to protect the monkeys featured within the photos. As we reported, this was rejected by the courts who seemingly wanted to affirm a “legal precedent” for any similar cases that may emerge in future. Now, it has been decided: animals cannot file copyright lawsuits.

The court also criticized PETA, questioning their intentions and suggesting they used the monkey for their own personal gain.

[…] PETA appears to have failed to live up to the title of “friend.” […] [I]n the wake of PETA’s proposed dismissal, Naruto is left without an advocate, his supposed “friend” having abandoned Naruto’s substantive claims in what appears to be an effort to prevent the publication of a decision adverse to PETA’s institutional interests. Were he capable of recognizing this abandonment, we wonder whether Naruto might initiate an action for breach of confidential relationship against his (former) next friend, PETA, for its failure to pursue his interests before its own. Puzzlingly, while representing 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.

As for next steps, we’ll have to wait and see if PETA make any counter-claims against the ruling. For now, we’re left with a quote from PETA’s lawyer Jeff Kerr, who simply stated to TIME: “[The monkey] Naruto should be considered the author and copyright owner, and he shouldn’t be treated any differently from any other creator simply because he happens to not be human.”

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16 Comments

What PETA failed to realise is that actuating a shutter release does not make one a creator. I wish the courts took the time to settle that one.

It was already obvious that a non-human cannot hold copyrights, and I am glad that the higher courts took the time to establish legal precedence by interpreting the law to mean that non-humans have no copyrights, as was clearly stated within the law in no uncertain terms, but legal precedence is mostly meaningless. The existence of precedence does not mean one is in the wrong or right, and the lack of precedence does not mean that either.

Precedence is set, and overturned, all the time. That being said, the lawyer who represented PETA would have been a fool to think they stood a chance, but I do not blame them for not leaving money on the table. “You will lose this case, and probably lose public support, but if you are paying up front, I'll be happy to peddle your snake oil. My plan, do not go to court and lose. Instead, drive your adversary towards bankruptcy, settle out of court, and claim a victory! Now where is that check?”

Nope. don't blame them for leaving money on the table; just for ruining a man's career for a paycheck.

Rob Davis's picture

Unless the monkey peed on the image, it doesn't own the image. Anyone in the jungle can tell you that.

Chris Rogers's picture

Why did this take so long? Also they named the monkey Naruto? lol Epic. BELIEVE IT!!

Leigh Miller's picture

Because a good precedent needed to be set!

Without it we will still have idiot orgs like PETA asserting rights that belong to "US". A necessary exercise, though costly for the tax payers.

Tony Clark's picture

Good to see that commonsense prevailed but let's hope that it's not overturned in appeals. The Slater, the Copyright holder recover legal fees and profit from his works.

Adam Milton's picture

I think the court also said that no copyright exists for this image, so nobody really wins here.

The courts never said that. The US Copyright Office said that an image in which the author is an animal, such as a painting made by an elephant or a photograph made by a monkey, is not copyright-able.

No courts nor the US copyright Office ruled that this particular photograph has a monkey as the author. That assertion was strictly made by Wikimedia, which has no legal authority to do so. As far as I see it, Slater still holds the copyright, and Wikimedia no longer has my financial support.

Grant Schwingle's picture

This AM Life did a pretty good piece on this a while back. Definitely worth a listen. https://www.thisamericanlife.org/631/so-a-monkey-and-a-horse-walk-into-a...

That being said, legal precedents are not invaluable. Why do you think PETA was pushing so hard for this? They wanted the legal precedent in favor of their own cause. The thing I took away from the podcast and this whole ordeal is not that the monkey took the actual picture, but that the photographer was already setup trying to get a similar shot. If the circumstances were such that the monkey setup the camera, lights, etc and then pressed the shutter button - I think we would have to re-evaluate the precedent. Since 99% of the work of getting this shot was done by Slater and prior to Naruto coincidentally pressing the shutter button I have to agree with the decision the courts made.

Oliver Kmia's picture

The defense of animals is an important topic but PETA is obviously getting ridiculous. Their latest idiocy being a statement against fishing in video games...
http://www.newsweek.com/peta-far-cry-5-controversy-fishing-902399
PETA is loosing credibility (or what is left of it). The animal cause is too important to be left in the absurd hands of this organization.

Jonathan Brady's picture

If you've kept track of PETA for any length of time you would know that ultimately their goal is for animals to have the same legal rights as humans. This was an important step for them. Ultimately, they would like the consequences for killing and eating an animal to be the same as killing and eating a human. The same goes for pet ownership or as they would likely call it; slavery.
I'm not prone to hyperbole or conspiracy theories. This is exactly what they want.
The Humane Society of the US has similarly crazy goals when it comes to pet ownership. They frequently push for legislation all around the country to ban breeding of animals by people of various levels of expertise. In some places, thanks to the hsus, you cannot breed your own pets without a special license which isn't easy to get. In other places they've managed to outlaw commercial breeding. In other places they've managed to outlaw breeding of animals by a medium sized business. Well, if it can't be done on a small scale, large scale, or medium scale, what's left? What they are lacking at this point is widespread adoption of these laws as well as overlap. But it is certainly their intention. They've also tried to get mandatory spay/neuter laws passed and I believe that they've been successful in a few places though I could be wrong.

Alex Armitage's picture

I still am in disbelief that this was even a thing.

Rob Watts's picture

The amount of time and money wasted here is unreal.

They should have slapped PETA with punitive damages.

Carl Murray's picture

PETA is pretty garbage, tbh, here's a long post with sources to all the awful things they do: https://imgur.com/gallery/LgGO7

This case really should have been thrown out for the massive joke that it, and PETA, is.

Studio 403's picture

YEA for humans. Export PETA to jpeg