The Ninth Circuit wasn’t “monkeying around” when they handed out their decision in the famous monkey selfie copyright lawsuit. 

The selfie saga began when David Slater, a wildlife photographer, encouraged animals to try and take photos with his camera. In this case, Naruto, a curious crested macaque, found Slater’s camera and took a selfie. These images later became known as the “Monkey Selfies”.

In September 2015, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued David Slater alleging that Naruto should be the rightful owner of his selfie. They also felt that any profits received from the photographs should be donated to help the endangered macaque monkey species and their habitat.

In a 2016 District Court ruling that PETA appealed, U.S. District Judge William Orrick stated, “While Congress and the President can extend the protection of the law to animals as well as humans, there is no indication that they did so in the Copyright Act”

PETA brought this lawsuit as a “next friend”. This is a person who acts on behalf of a person, or animal, in this case, lacking legal capacity. However, this designation does not apply to animals and Ninth Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith felt that PETA lacked the legal standing to sue on behalf of Naruto and that the case should have been dismissed a long time ago.

In his partial concurrence opinion, Smith wrote “animal-next-friend standing is particularly susceptible to abuse. Institutional actors could simply claim some form of relationship to the animal or object to obtain standing and use it to advance their own institutional goals with no means to curtail those actions.” In this case, the Court did not feel that PETA’s relationship to Naruto was “any more significant than its relationship with any other animal”

Last year, PETA asked the court to dismiss the appeal because they entered into a settlement with Slater. Slater agreed to donate a percentage of his Monkey Selfie profits to animal welfare charities. The Court denied the motion to dismiss as this case was “developing area of law” which would provide guidance for lower courts. It was also denied to set a precedent for those in similar cases that would want to manipulate the Court’s ruling for their own personal gain.

The Court felt PETA’s purpose for bringing in this case was self-serving, as previously stated, and not in Naruto’s best interested as PETA claimed. In a foot of the opinion of the Judges commented that “PETA’s real motivation, in this case, was to advance its own interests and not Naruto’s.” Going further, the Judges also commented that “PETA seems to employ Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals”

In a statement, PETA contested the ruling claiming: “the opinion still missed the point, which was that 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… PETA will continue working until the last barrier falls and animals’ fundamental rights are recognized under the law, including their rights as creators.”

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