People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an animal-rights organization, has asked a California federal judge not to throw out a copyright case it brought on behalf of a monkey.
According to the complaint,
Naruto is a free, autonomous six-year-old male member of the Macaca nigra species, also known as a crested macaque, residing in the Tangkoko Reserve on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia. In or around 2011 Naruto took a number of photographs of himself, including one image – the internationally famous photograph known as the “Monkey Selfie.”
Naruto used the unattended camera of nature photographer David Slater. Slater self-published a book based on the image; the cover is shown above.
PETA, backed by a major intellectual property law firm, filed suit against Slater and the publishing company on behalf of Naruto. The suit claims that the monkey is the “author” of the work and thus can claim the copyright:
The Monkey Selfies resulted from a series of purposeful and voluntary actions by Naruto, unaided by Slater, resulting in original works of authorship not by Slater, but by Naruto.
The suit claims that the defendants repeatedly infringed on Naruto’s copyright in the Monkey Selfies by falsely claiming to be the photographs’ authors and by selling copies of the images for their profit
In his motion to dismiss, Slater wrote,
A monkey, an animal-rights organization and a primatologist walk into federal court to sue for infringement of the monkey’s claimed copyright. What seems like the setup for a punchline is really happening. It should not be happening.
Last year, Wikipedia published the photo in its collection of public domain images. Slater demanded that the picture be removed, and Wikipedia refused, saying that a non-human animal could not claim copyright.
Soon after, as we discussed in this blog, the US Copyright Office updated its compendium of guidelines to state that works created by anything other than a human being were not subject to copyright. The office specifically mentioned a “photograph taken by a monkey” as one of its examples.
PETA is seeking to have the proceeds from the photo used to protect Naruto and his community.
The case is Naruto v. Slater et al.