U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Ninth Circuit Not Amused by Selfie-Monkey Copyright Claim

Naruto, the smiling selfie-monkey, got no love from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Dissing the animal rights group that sued for him, the appeals court said animals don't have copyrights. The case attracted global attention because the macaque actually took his own picture, but that did not seem to impress the federal judges.

The Ninth Circuit handed the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals a loss in Naruto v. Slater, saying all the macaque really lost was its so-called "friends."

No Animal Copyrights

The decision was a long-time coming since 2011, when photographer David Slater set up his camera in an Indonesian forest. Naruto wandered on the scene and snapped his selfies, which Slater published and PETA used to set-off an interspecies dilemma.

The animal rights group sued in 2015, but a trial judge ruled last year that Naruto did not own the copyright to the pictures. PETA appealed.

After arguments but before the Ninth Circuit ruled, the parties settled. Slater agreed to pay 25 percent of any sales to charities to protect and improve the macaque habitat.

That did not settle the matter before the appeals court, however. The judges had something to say, and they weren't smiling.

Abandoned the Monkey

The Ninth Circuit noted the settlement and PETA's proposed dismissal of its lawsuit, then laid into the animal rights group. The appeals panel said PETA abandoned the monkey.

"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," they continued. It's possible the judges were joking, but then this happened:

"Puzzlingly, while representing to the world that 'animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way,'" the judges said, "PETA seems to employ Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals."

The appeals court also awarded attorney's fees and costs to Slater and his representative.

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