Monkey Lawsuit Still Ongoing as Court Dismisses Agreement Between Photographer and PETA

Despite stemming from 2011, the case regarding the copyright of a photo technically taken by a monkey is not over yet. Even though photographer David Slater and animal rights group PETA reached an agreement last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has now rejected the request.

You’ll likely remember the story of Slater (how could you not?) who traveled to Indonesia and photographed a group of macaques. He set up his camera on a tripod, and eventually one of the animals took a “selfie.” With the image having circulated the internet (mostly because media sites and blogs claimed they had free right to, since the monkey took it, and not Slater), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the monkey.

The now-infamous photo

Keen to resolve the matter, Slater has even previously said he is ready to retire due to his dire financial situation after a multiple year-long legal battle. When he and PETA came to an agreement last year, it was hoped that would be the last of it.

Now the Courts have intervened, refusing the agreement made by the two parties, and stating, “The grant of a voluntary dismissal is not mandatory, and sometimes neither is it advisable.” See the order here.

It’s noted that in certain cases, courts prefer to hash the issue out as a means of setting ground rules for future conflicts of a similar nature.

The case continues.

Images used with permission of David Slater.

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Spy Black's picture

This is awesome entertainment. I feel bad for the photographer tho...

olivier borgognon's picture

Who will be responsible when the guy commits suicide due to too much pressure because of a picture ? who will be sued and taken to court, because the PTSD which could follow this situation is close to a critical case at this stage.

michael buehrle's picture

fuckin lawyers.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Hope judges will set a precedent and PETA won't be PITA for the photographer any more...

RiShawn Biddle's picture

The issue is that the Ninth Circuit is likely to hand down a ruling in the case. A settlement would basically render that ruling moot since it would be reached before the appellate court hands down its ruling. Therefore, the settlement won't be accepted.

More than likely, based on the questioning during the hearing some months ago, the Ninth Circuit will likely rule against PETA and in favor of Slater. Which, if not for this case being dragged out for years, would otherwise be a good thing.

Frankly, Naruto versus Slater should have been dismissed with prejudice by the lower court judge as soon as the first hearing was held.

As for Slater: I don't feel too bad for him. Chances are that PETA launched its suit because Slater had earlier (and unsuccessfully) demanded Wikimedia and Techdirt to take down the photo from their sites. Slater made a few grand off the photo before Wikimedia basically gave it away for free, and he sued to have it remove the photo. As it turned out, by the time PETA filed its suit, Slater lost his case because federal officials ruled that the photo was created by the primate, and since the primate isn't human, the photo can't gain copyright protection.

Jonathan Levy's picture

I believe the case was tossed on a pre-answer motion to dismiss. That's as close to the first hearing as you can get. You are a tad harsh on Slater. His lawsuit was daft but that doesn't mean he deserved to be financially ruined..

RiShawn Biddle's picture

Don't get me wrong: I don't think he deserves financial ruin and I think the PETA suit has no merit. PETA deserves to lose and pay Slater's legal fees.Wikimedia should have probably honored his original request to take down the photo, too. But even Slater admitted that the money from the photo dried up as soon as Wikimedia posted it. If he hadn't gotten into a fight with Wikimedia, chances are that PETA wouldn't have tried to cash in (and advance its case for animals being given legal standing similar to that for humans).

This was one of those cases in which he should have chalked it up as a loss of revenue and then go off to make money from other photographic ventures that have less legal vagueness attached to them. That's always the problem with legal efforts; litigation and administrative rulemaking beget more legal and political shenanigans.

Brad M's picture

I always found it unsettling that Wikimedia was able to unilaterally decide to strip copyright off of this image. A past article said that, under UK law, you might be able to copyright this image, but not in the US. Slater lives in the UK. Wikimedia said it couldn't be copyrighted under US law and released it as Public Domain, which effectively removed the copyright for the UK.

Adam Milton's picture

This case still makes me mad as hell. To say that no copyright exists because a monkey supposedly took a photo just doesn't make sense. There are many instances where non-human actions trigger the taking of a photo or a video, and copyright is not automatically discarded in those instances.

I also still don't believe that the monkey actually took the picture, and I didn't believe that even before all of this nonsense. It's just too clean, and the timing is too perfect, to really believe that a monkey did all of that on their own. He later claimed that he made the original story up because it sounded better. We can't know which version of events truly happened, so I don't see how you can make definitive and very consequential decisions based on that first story which can't be verified. This whole saga rests on the original unverified story, which is such a sloppy way to make legal decisions in my view.

In either case, this image would not exist in any form without David Slater having facilitated all of this, which should be enough to establish copyright, until there is very strong and sound reasoning to deny the copyright. If a photographer's copyright is automatic, in the US anyway, then there should have to be indisputable evidence that the photographer does not rightly own the copyright, before it is stripped away.

Karim Hosein's picture

«Slater lost his case because federal officials ruled that the photo was created by the primate, and since the primate isn't human, the photo can't gain copyright protection.»

That is NOT correct. The officials never ruled on whether the image can gain copyright protection, only that Naruto, (or the actual monkey which actuated the shutter), can hold copyright. In fact, they never even got to that ruling, as another issue was brought up, which they had ruled against, and was appealed, so the case went to a higher court without a final ruling.

No American court ever made a decision on the image not bein gc able to gain copyright protection. For the record, contrary to popular opinion, the US code does not say that a picture is copyrighted by the person who actuated the shutter, but by the person who created the work, and furthermore, the copyright does not go into effect at the moment the shutter is acctuated, but the moment the work is “fixed,’ which is also clearly defined in the code.

Slater has an excelent case to claim copyright, and Wikimedia has no clear case to refute it. Also, Wikimedia has NOT won any case against Slater to date. They simply failed to comply.

Jonathan Levy's picture

It looks like they kept it alive to smack PETA and set a precedent against someone doing what PETA did here in the future. Reading between (and too far between) the lines, the order says they don't want to allow PETA to agree to dismiss the case in order to avoid an unfavorable decision. This is a good thing.