Monkey See, Monkey Sue

Okay, it’s not a monkey, it’s a Crested Black Macaque. Specifically, Naruto. He famously took selfies – before selfies were really a thing – after stealing photographer David Slater’s camera.

Crested Black Macaque Self-Portrait

Crested Black Macaque Self-Portrait

Who owns the images? Slater thought he did, but he lost that fight.

And, strictly speaking, it’s not Naruto bringing the lawsuit. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – PETA – brought a lawsuit asserting the copyright belongs to Naruto. Specifically, that folks publishing Naruto’s selfies were infringing on Naruto’s copyright.

The trial court didn’t buy what PETA was peddling. US District Judge William Orrick ruled that Congress, not the courts, should be in charge of deciding whether intellectual property law extends to macaques. “This is an issue for Congress and the president,” the judge ruled and dismissed PETA’s case. “If they think animals should have the right of copyright, they’re free, I think, under the Constitution, to do that.”

PETA appealed Judge Orrick’s decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Agustin Fuenes, a primatologist at the University of Notre Dame told the court in an amicus brief that Naruto should prevail. “In this case,” Agustin Fuentes wrote,”scientific data necessarily supports the broad interpretation that Naruto has the capacity to be an author and behaved in a way that fits within the definition of artistic expression.”

A three judge panel will hear oral arguments today. WC will post on the decision, when it is announced. But the oral argument should be fun. Plus, it gives WC a chance to post Naruto’s magnificent self-portrait again.




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