Monkey Doesn’t Actually Hold Copyright to Selfie Appeals Court Rules

By Kehl Bayern / April 25, 2018

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In what could be a stunning rebuke for the world’s most famous selfie taken by a monkey, a court in the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the primate actually didn’t hold the copyright to the iconic pic in a win for the human owner of the camera.

You might remember we reported back in November 2017 that the “smiling monkey” Naruto used photographer David J. Slater’s camera to take a pic of his grinning mug.

The royalties from the photo were to be used to fund the preserve at Indonesia's Sulaweesi Reserve where Naruto has his home. After the ruling of the 9th US Circuit Court, Naruto seemed to be in the clear so far as the ownership of his picture was concerned – but everything can and did change on appeal.

The original ruling noted that the owner of the copyright is the person who took the picture itself, not the owner of the equipment that captured the photo. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals then ruled that copyright infringement can only be successfully claimed by a human, not a monkey.

General counsel for PETA, which brought the initial suit against the photographer back in 2015, has not commented on whether or not they will pursue an appeal of the appeals court’s ruling.

9th Circuit Court Judge Carlos Bea highlighted that the issue was that the copyright law did not “expressly authorize animals to file copyright infringement suits” – in other words, if Naruto was born a human, he’d have a case, but, since he’s a monkey, he’s out of luck. And that would seem to make sense in a court system designed by humans for human use.

Still, Naruto’s story is an interesting example of the limits of copyright and just how important it can be to a photographer (or any creative’s) livelihood. We’re sure the photographer and Naruto will work something out in the end. Or we could be reporting on PETA's appeal in the future, natch.


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About the author

Kehl Bayern

Kehl Bayern is our staff news writer and has over a decade of experience in online media and publishing. In terms of photography, he is interested in architecture and modern design. Kehl Bayern is also the author of science fiction thriller Animus Proxy. He is based in Boston, Massachusetts and studied politics at the University of Virginia and, later, Harvard University for graduate school. He spends much of his time traveling up and down the east coast of the United States. You can follow him on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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