PETA Sues on Behalf of Monkey for Selfie Copyright

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By Blake Brittain

Sept. 22 — The copyright to a series of “selfie” photographs taken by a monkey in Indonesia should belong to the monkey itself, animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in a complaint filed Sept. 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

David Slater—the photographer who set up the camera that a crested macaque took to photograph itself when the photographer was away—and Blurb Inc. have published and sold a book containing copies of the “monkey selfies.”

PETA asserted that the copyright in the photos should belong to the macaque—which the organization said was named Naruto—and requested that “all proceeds from the sale, licensing, and other commercial uses of the Monkey Selfies” be used “solely for the benefit of Naruto, his family, and his community, including the preservation of their habitat.”

PETA argued that the court had jurisdiction based on Slater's sale of the book in the United States, and that it had standing to bring the case on behalf of Naruto under Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(b) because “Naruto's rights cannot be effectively vindicated except through an appropriate representative.”

“Naruto cannot independently bring this action due to inaccessibility and incapacity,” PETA said in the complaint.

The third edition of the U.S. Copyright Practices Compendium, released in 2014, said specifically that “a photograph taken by a monkey” is not copyrightable, because copyrights require human authorship.

PETA argued that Naruto should have rights in the photographs because Naruto is a “highly intelligent” being accustomed to cameras, and it “authored the Monkey Selfies by his independent, autonomous actions in examining and manipulating Slater's unattended camera and purposely pushing the shutter release multiple times, understanding the cause-and-effect relationship between pressing the shutter release, the noise of the shutter, and the change to his reflection in the camera lens.”

PETA said that, therefore, Slater infringed Naruto's copyrights by publishing his book of “monkey selfies,” and requested a permanent injunction against Slater's commercial use of the photos. PETA also requested that all Slater's profits from using the photos be used solely for Naruto and its community's benefit.

PETA is represented by David A. Schwarz of Irell & Manella LLP, Los Angeles.

To contact the reporter on this story: Blake Brittain in Washington at bbrittain@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Wilczek at mailto:mwilczek@bna.com

Full text at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Naruto_v_Slater_et_al_Docket_No_315cv04324_ND_Cal_Sept_21_2015_Co.