It’s been a tale for the ages, but finally – properly this time – it’s come to a conclusion. As it turns out, Naruto, a crested macaque, isn’t able to file a copyright claim against a nature photographer, whose camera was used to take what has now become an infamous “monkey selfie”. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, as Naruto is not a legal person, he can’t sue, agreeing with an earlier ruling.
Now, this may sound utterly bonkers to some of you, so here’s a quick recap.
Once upon a time, back in 2011, wildlife photographer David Slater headed off to Indonesia to document the plight of the endangered crested black macaques of the forests of Sulawesi. In the process of doing so, one particularly curious fellow sat in front of the tripod-supported camera.
Thanks to the actions of either this monkey or other monkeys playing with the cable release attached to the camera, it took a photograph of that lens-faced macaque. It’s unclear whether this was a “selfie” or not, but it was a great photograph regardless, and the image – one of several – quickly went viral.
Then things started to get weird. After Wikipedia mockingly dismissed Slater’s right to the image and suggested the monkey itself owns the rights to the shot, the controversial animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) got involved.
Taking the issue to court in order to further their idea that animals should have the same rights as humans, it culminated in a real court case where the monkey, supposedly a male named Naruto, was going to literally sue Slater. Dismissed initially, the monkey’s legal team appealed.
This appeal was dismissed too, as a federal district judge in San Francisco determined in 2016 that copyright protection cannot be applied to a monkey. This was, however, after Slater spent a ton of money on legal fees and not getting the royalties he deserved, while lamenting how PETA distracted everyone from the original purpose of his expedition to Indonesia.
Although free of his Sisyphean legal hell, Slater reached an understanding of sorts with PETA. Back in September 2017, the photographer agreed to donate 25 percent of all revenue made from the image toward conservation efforts for the crested macaques.
As spotted by ArsTechnica, a federal court – the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals – has just upheld the judge’s 2016 opinion. The ruling features comment from Circuit Judge Carlos Bea, who notes that “this monkey – and all animals, since they are not humans – lacks statutory standing under the Copyright Act.”
Rather excitingly, the ruling also notes that, despite being Naruto’s “next friend” in the legal battle, PETA have “failed to live up to the title of ‘friend.” Despite their supposed animal rights ideals, PETA “seems to employ Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals,” it noted.
It goes on to explain that PETA have essentially abandoned Naruto himself, and it’s not clear what benefit he will receive from the somewhat ambiguous settlement.
“Were he capable of recognizing this abandonment, we wonder whether Naruto might initiate an action for breach of confidential relationship against his (former) next friend, PETA, for its failure to pursue his interests before its own.”
Now there’s a plot twist for you.