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


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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Kehl is our staff photography news writer since 2017 and has over a decade of experience in online media and publishing and you can get to know him better here and follow him on Insta.

I find this whole argument ridiculous and a slippery slope, should the monkey ultimately win. What about a photo taken with a self timer? Would Nikon or Sony own the copyright? What about a trail camera, where the motion of the hapless raccoon triggered the camera? Should the raccoon own the copyright? Good luck finding him. Courts can be so silly.

Silly is not the word I’d use. If you think about it, how often does someone hand their cell phone over to a friend, or even a stranger, and ask, “can you take a picture of me?” Does this ruling negate these simple, innocuous requests for ‘in-the-moment’ photos?

It’s embarrassing that an organization such as PETA has to resort to such idiotic stunts for publicity. Especially since it put a photographer who was bringing to light the state of these animals to near bankruptcy. PETA should be forced to compensate that photographer for all he was put through.

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