As you may remember from our post, dated October 13, 2015, that a lawsuit was filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) asking the U.S. Federal Court in San Francisco to declare Naruto (then 6 year old), free-living crested macaque monkey who took selfie photographs should be declared the copyright owner of the photos.
These photos were taken by British nature photographer David Slater during his trip to Sulawesi in 2011. He then published a book called the Wildlife Personalities that includes the “monkey selfie” photos through San Francisco based self-publishing company Blurb. Slater pointed out the facts behind the monkey’s selfie picture, whereby which he stated that he was the intellect behind the photos. He further contended that he stayed with a group of monkeys for days so that they would get comfortable with his presence. When the monkeys began investigating his photography equipment, Slater had the idea of setting up a camera in such a way that the monkeys can take pictures of themselves. He placed his camera on a tripod and adjusted it and waited for the monkeys to press the shutter button. He even sold signed prints of the selfie portrait online. The controversial macaque monkey selfies were also introduced as exhibits in the lawsuit.The selfie photos have been widely distributed by Wikipedia, which contend that no one owns the copyright to the images because they were taken by an animal and not a person.
Also, US Copyright Office issued an updated compendium of its policies, including a section stipulating that it would register Copyrights only for works produced by human beings. It clearly specified that works produced by animals, whether a photo taken by a monkey or a mural painted by an elephant, would not qualify.
Jeffrey Kerr, a lawyer with PETA, stated that he will continue to fight for Naruto and his fellow macaques, which are in grave danger of being killed for bush meat or for foraging for food in a nearby village while their habitat disappears because of human encroachment. He further stated that this case is a vital step towards fundamental rights for non-human animals for their own sake, not in relation to how they can be exploited by humans. He pointed out that the act grants copyright to the authors of original works, with no limit on species. Mr. Kerr contradicted the stance of the Copyright Office by saying that Copyright office policy is only an opinion and the US Copyright Act itself does not contain language limiting Copyrights to humans. He insisted that copyright law does not explicitly say that the author of a work must be human. On the other words, they believe that Naruto should be receiving all funds from the picture, which would be used to care for Naruto and her reserve.
Almost five years after PETA filed the lawsuit, on January 6, the Judge after hearing both sides has indicated that he has doubts about whether the U.S. Copyright Act provides non-human animals with standing to own a copyright and without that express authorization, he feels that he does not have the power to do so himself.He held that while Congress and the President can extend the protection of law to animals as well as humans, there is no indication that they did so in the Copyright Act. The judge pointed out that owning a copyright is not monkey business. He finally concluded that he is inclined to dismiss the case but will give PETA 20 days of time to file an amended complaint.
We now await to see the outcome of the judiciary in deciding the ultimately copyright owner of the famous selfies.