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Monkey can't own the copyright to its famous selfie, appeals court rules


A monkey in Indonesia cannot own the copyright to a famous smiling selfie it took in 2011, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

The unanimous, three-judge panel upheld a lower court ruling that dismissed the lawsuit by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals against a photographer whose camera was used by a crested macaque to take the photos in 2011. U.S. copyright law does not allow lawsuits that seek to give animals the rights to photographs or other original work, the court said.

“We conclude that this monkey—and all animals, since they are not human—lacks statutory standing under the Copyright Act,” the ruling said.

The ruling marks the latest chapter in a long-running legal dispute over the images, which include a selfie of the smiling monkey that went viral.


“Naruto was a seven-year-old crested macaque that lived—and may still live—in a reserve on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia,” the court explained in its ruling. “In 2011, a wildlife photographer, David Slater, left his camera unattended in the reserve. Naruto allegedly took several photographs of himself (the “Monkey Selfies”) with Slater’s camera.”

File photo - A print of a monkey selfie is on display during a VIP media preview ahead of the opening of The Museum of Selfies in Glendale, California, U.S., March 29, 2018. (REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)

PETA's 2015 suit against Slater sought financial control of the photographs for the benefit of Naruto.

However, the appeals court ruling questioned PETA’s assertion that the organization is a guardian or “next friend” of Naruto. “We gravely doubt that PETA can validly assert ‘next friend’ status to represent claims made for the monkey,” it said, in its ruling. “PETA has failed to allege any facts to establish the required significant relationship between a next friend and a real party in interest and (2) because an animal cannot be represented, under our laws, by a ‘next friend’.”

The ruling added that “PETA seems to employ Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals.”


PETA said that, while the court reaffirmed that animals have the constitutional right to bring a case to federal court when they've been wronged, the opinion missed the point. “Naruto the macaque undeniably took the photos, and denying him the right to sue under the U.S. Copyright Act emphasizes what PETA has argued all along—that he is discriminated against simply because he's a nonhuman animal,” said PETA’s General Counsel Jeff Kerr, in a statement emailed to Fox News.

In 2016, a federal judge ruled that the macaque monkey cannot be declared the copyright owner of the photos. PETA then appealed that ruling to the 9th Circuit.

Slater and PETA announced in September they reached a settlement, under which Slater agreed to donate 25 percent of any future revenue from the images to charities dedicated to protecting crested macaques in Indonesia. Lawyers then asked the 9th Circuit to dismiss the case.

But the appeals court refused, saying a decision in this "developing area of the law" would help guide lower courts and considerable public resources had been spent on the case.

Monday’s ruling will not affect the settlement, according to Kerr. “The groundbreaking settlement in this case still stands, and 25 percent of the gross proceeds from the photos that Naruto took will go toward supporting him and his community—representing the first time that an animal will obtain a direct financial benefit from something that he or she created,” he said, in the statement emailed to Fox News. “PETA will continue working until the last barrier falls and animals' fundamental rights are recognized under the law, including their rights as creators.”

Fox News’ Bill Mears and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers