Monkey Selfie Animal Rights Brouhaha Devolves Into A Settlement

It appears that another animal will have to take over the fight being waged by Naruto, an Indonesian macaque monkey who is the named plaintiff in a lawsuit weighing whether animals have a right to own property. In this instance, it’s about whether animals can own US copyrights.

Naruto, via his self-appointed lawyers from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is in the process of dropping his lawsuit over the now infamous monkey selfies. That’s according to a Friday legal filing with the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which is being asked to hold off on issuing a ruling that everybody believes is going to go against Naruto.

About every conceivable joke has been made about this Planet of the Apes-styled litigation that we’ve been following for two years now. A lower court judge had already ruled against Naruto, stating that monkeys cannot own US copyrights even if they snapped the picture (which actually happened in this case).

Naruto, whose appeal is pending, snatched the camera from a British photographer in 2011 and in the process took a few pictures of himself on the Tangkoko reserve on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The photographer, David Slater, published the photos in a book, Wildlife Personalities. Naruto and PETA sued him and the book’s online publishing platform, Blurb, for copyright infringement. (Slater’s ownership of the selfies are also in doubt because he didn’t take them. Wikipedia has declared them to be a part of the US public domain—an assertion Slater disputes.)

But again, all of this strangeness is about to come to a close. The lawyers for Naruto, Slater, and Blurb told the appeals court (PDF) Friday that an out-of-court settlement was near and that the court should refrain from issuing a ruling.

“The Parties have agreed on a general framework for a settlement subject to the negotiation and resolution of specific terms. Given the current progress of settlement discussions, the Parties are optimistic that they will be able to reach an agreement that will resolve all claims in this matter,” according to the filing.

Nobody would say publicly what the deal is, or why this is happening. But there’s a quirk in US copyright law that explains some, if not all, the reasoning behind it.

US law allows the “prevailing party” in a copyright infringement action, whether they be the plaintiff or defendant, to seek legal fees and costs of the opposing side—but they’re not always guaranteed to be awarded. And during oral arguments in the case last month, a three-judge panel of the court of appeals eviscerated Naruto’s arguments.

Two years of litigation amounts to a boatload of legal fees and costs. PETA could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars—a sum likely to be reduced or forgiven under terms of the upcoming settlement.

All of which means that PETA, which also made some outrageous arguments about online liability in this litigation, probably doesn’t want to keep the cash meter running. After all, based on decisions and court statements thus far, nobody really expected Naruto to prevail.

PETA’s lawsuit, however, prompted public discourse about the idea of animals owning property. And that’s why this lawsuit may have been about nothing more than monkey business all along.

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‘Monkey selfie’ creator continues legal battle, now broke

Going freelance is not easy. You either go big or go broke. One freelance photographer thought he would go big if he could get a monkey to do a selfie, but things didn’t turn out how he expected.

Freelance photographer David Slater is now in a dire financial situation as the legal proceedings regarding his now famous “monkey selfie” photos continue in a United States court.

Slater had to settle for watching a livestream of the proceedings from his United Kingdom home because he can’t afford the plane ticket, and is also not able to pay for the lawyer representing him, according to The Guardian.

Slater’s “monkey selfie” photos have become popular on the internet, but in 2014, things became complicated. Slater asked Wikipedia and blog Techdirt to stop using the photos, as he claims copyright for the said images. Wikipedia thought otherwise and argued that the photos were uncopyrightable because the monkey was the creator of the images. But the U.S. Copyright Office later on ruled that animals cannot own copyrights.

“If everybody gave me a pound for every time they used [the photograph], I’d probably have £40m in my pocket. The proceeds from these photographs should have me comfortable now, and I’m not,” Slater said in the report.

In 2015, Slater was sued by the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) on behalf of a crested black macaque which the organization identified as a six-year-old male named Naruto. A judge ruled against Peta the following year, saying that animals were not covered by the Copyright Act. Peta appealed to the ninth circuit court of appeals and the legal battle continues to this day.

Several points contested in court include whether Peta truly has a close relationship with Naruto to represent the animal in court. The value of providing written notice of copyright claim to a community of macaques is also called into question, as well as whether Naruto is actually harmed by not being recognized as a copyright holder.

“There is no way to acquire or hold money. There is no loss as to reputation. There is not even any allegation that the copyright could have somehow benefited Naruto,” Judge N Randy Smith was quoted in the report. “What financial benefits apply to him? There’s nothing.”

Slater and his publisher’s lawyer also questioned if Peta even identified the right monkey.

“I know for a fact that [the monkey in the photograph] is a female and it’s the wrong age,” according to Slater. “I’m bewildered at the American court system. Surely it matters that the right monkey is suing me.”
Slater had spent long hours following and trying to coax the group of monkeys that he took photos of during his trip to Sulawesi India in 2011. He stated that the selfies were a result of his ingenuity in getting the monkeys to press the shutter button while looking at the lens without blinking.

His only consolation, he said, is that his photos could help in saving the crested black macaque from extinction: “The picture hopefully contributed to saving the species. That was the original intention all along.”