Mon­key suit

Court weighs if an­i­mal owns rights to its self­ies

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

SAN FRAN­CISCO — A cu­ri­ous mon­key with a toothy grin and a knack for press­ing a cam­era but­ton was back in the spot­light on Wed­nes­day as a fed­eral ap­peals court heard ar­gu­ments on whether an an­i­mal can hold a copy­right to selfie pho­tos.

A 45-minute hear­ing be­fore a three-judge panel of the 9th US Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals in San Fran­cisco at­tracted crowds of law stu­dents and cu­ri­ous cit­i­zens who of­ten burst into laugh­ter. The judges also chuck­led at times at the nov­elty of the case, which in­volves a mon­key in an­other coun­try that is unaware of the fuss.

An­drew Dhuey, at­tor­ney for Bri­tish na­ture pho­tog­ra­pher David Slater, said “mon­key see, mon­key sue” is not good law un­der any fed­eral act.

Naruto is a free-liv­ing crested macaque who snapped per­fectly framed self­ies in 2011 that would make even the Kar­dashi­ans proud.

Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals sued Slater and the San Fran­cisco-based self-pub­lish­ing com­pany Blurb, which pub­lished a book called “Wildlife Per­son­al­i­ties” that in­cludes the self­ies, for copy­right in­fringe­ment. It sought a court or­der in 2015 al­low­ing it to ad­min­is­ter all pro­ceeds from the pho­tos taken in a wildlife re­serve in Su­lawesi, In­done­sia, to ben­e­fit the mon­key.

Slater said the Bri­tish copy­right for the pho­tos ob­tained by his com­pany, Wildlife Per­son­al­i­ties, should be hon­ored.

David Schwarz, PETA at­tor­ney, said Naruto was ac­cus­tomed to cam­eras and took the self­ies when he saw him­self in the re­flec­tion of the lens.

A judge ruled against PETA and the mon­key last year, say­ing he lacked the right to sue be­cause there was no in­di­ca­tion that Congress in­tended to ex­tend copy­right pro­tec­tion to an­i­mals.

Through­out Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing, Schwarz pushed back, ar­gu­ing that the case came down to one sim­ple fact: Pho­to­graphs can be copy­righted and Naruto is the au­thor.

“We have to look at the word ‘au­thor­ship’ in the broad­est sense,” he said.

The judges did not is­sue a rul­ing on Wed­nes­day.

An­gela Dun­ning, an at­tor­ney for Blurb, won­dered at the pos­si­bil­i­ties if they do not pre­vail. “Where does it end? If a mon­key can sue for copy­right in­fringe­ment, what else can a mon­key do?”

PETA’s gen­eral coun­sel Jeff Kerr said af­ter the hear­ing that the group plans to use money from the pho­tos to pro­tect mon­key habi­tats and help peo­ple study the mon­keys.

“PETA is clearly rep­re­sent­ing Naruto’s best in­ter­ests,” he said.

Dhuey said the le­gal an­tics were more of a pub­lic­ity stunt by PETA than a law­suit. He quipped af­ter the hear­ing that Naruto made a tac­ti­cal mis­take by not ap­pear­ing in court.

“It’s like he doesn’t even care,” he said be­fore walk­ing away from cam­eras.

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