It is a truth universally acknowledged that any selfie-taking monkey must demand the copyright for her photographs. Or at least that seems to be what PETA is arguing. In September they filed a copyright lawsuit on the behalf of Naruto, the cheery macaque pictured above. The case was initially dismissed, but now Naruto and her champions have a second shot at obtaining justice.

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According to Sarah Jeong at Motherboard, “the organization has means to amend—meaning that if it wants, PETA can try yet again to get damages from nature photographer David Slater and the self-publishing company Blurb, Inc.”

Naruto’s endeavors into self-portraiture have been causing trouble for some time now. Slater argues that the photos belong to him because they were taken with his camera. But other entities like Wikimedia contest this claim,
“concluding that the selfie is public domain because it was taken by a non-human.”

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Now PETA has taken Slater to court, claiming that the selfies are neither public domain nor the property of the photographer — in fact, they belong to Naruto. From Jeong at Motherboard:

“PETA argued that non-humans like Naruto, a Sulawesi crested macaque, are authors under the Copyright Act, and therefore they can sue for copyright infringement. Sulawesi crested macaques are critically endangered, and PETA says it would use the proceeds from licensing the photograph to benefit Naruto, his family, and his habitat.”

This sounds lovely, but according to legal precedent, Naruto cannot act as a plaintiff. As Jeong explains, “in the 9th Circuit...follows Cetacean v. Bush, which says that animals cannot be plaintiffs in court unless the law cited specifically says so.” Judge William H. Orrick, while apparently tickled by Naruto’s case, dismissed it on these grounds. Indeed, it’s questionable as to how PETA will obtain a favorable ruling given that, as Orrick writes, “there is no mention of animals anywhere in the Copyright Act.”

But PETA was confident in the fight for Naruto’s right to selfie, regarding the case as comparable to a human rights lawsuit. David A. Schwarz, the macaque’s attorney, even “analogized Naruto’s supposed inability to own a copyright to an enslaved African-American’s inability to own a patent prior to the adoption of the 14th amendment.” To rule “in favor of the macaque,” Schwarz asserts, “would be a progressive step forward similar to women’s emancipation, or the liberation of the slaves.”

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Still, PETA has not yet determined whether they will “file an amended complaint.” And from what we know, Naruto has been silent on the matter.


Contact the author at rachel.vorona.cote@jezebel.com.

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Image via Wikimedia Commons.