Guess who’s back? More monkey business in the US Court of Appeal

Just when photographers around the world thought it was safe to go back into the jungle, Naruto, the internet’s most famous monkey, raises his (not so) ugly head again.

Readers may recall the author’s cover story in the October 2014 edition of the Law Society Gazette wondering if copyright existed for photographs taken by animals, even those as cute as Naruto. If you have, in fact, been living in the jungle for the last five years here’s a quick recap to bring you up to speed. In 2011, photographer David Slater was going about his business in the Indonesian jungles when a macaque monkey grabbed his camera and took several shots including the now famous “monkey selfie”.

Slater posted the photo online from where it went viral ultimately ending up in the Wikimedia Commons collection of free to use photos and videos. When challenged Wikimedia contended that Slater could not own copyright in the photo since, despite owning the camera, he did not take the actual shot and because the US Copyright Office explicitly refuses to register copyright in non-human created works the image was effectively in the public domain.

In a further twist Naruto (acting through People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) issued a lawsuit in the US District Court of Northern California against Slater claiming ownership of the copyright in the image and looking for royalties from Slater and others for their use of it. Slater managed to get this case thrown out on the basis that animals lack standing to sue under US copyright law but PETA has now appealed the lower court decision to the US Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit.

So it looks like Naruto fights on to have his day in court and in the meantime his famous “monkey selfie” will continue to remind us that beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder.


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