Monkey Business and Copyright Law
Naruto, a monkey living in Indonesia, took a selfie in 2011 with a human nature photographer’s camera which had been left unattended. Photographer David J. Slater configured the camera to the appropriate settings, and backed away to allow the monkeys, who had shown interest in his camera, to play, which resulted in images being taken.
One of Naruto’s photographs was posted on Wikipedia, and Slater objected to its use due to copyright issues. Wikipedia responded that there was no infringement because the photograph was taken by a monkey.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed suit on behalf of monkey photographer, Naruto, alleging that he held the copyright to the photographs. The suit, filed in 2015, alleged that Slater’s publication and sale of the photographs taken by the monkey infringed upon Naruto’s rights under the Copyright Act.
In 2016, US District Judge William Orrick sided with the defense and ruled that the Copyright Act was not intended to extend protections to animals, and that as a monkey, Naruto owned no rights to his photographs. PETA filed an appeal.
A ruling was issued on April 23, 2018 affirming the district court’s dismissal of the claims brought by PETA on behalf of the monkey. The Court ruled that the monkey lacked standing to claim copyright infringement relating to the photographs which are referred to in the record as the “Monkey Selfies.” The Court concluded that animals have no standing under the Copyright Act by virtue of not being human.
An agreement was reached between PETA and Slater whereby 25% of any future revenue derived from selling or using the monkey selfies would be donated to charities dedicated to protecting the habitat of Naruto and other crested macaques in Indonesia.