Judge: Monkey that snapped selfie can't hold copyright

By Ben Hooper  |  Jan. 7, 2016 at 2:33 PM
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SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- A federal judge in San Francisco struck down an animal rights group's argument that a famous selfie snapped by a monkey is the primate's intellectual property.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a U.S. federal court lawsuit in San Francisco arguing Naruto, a macaque monkey known to researchers in Indonesia, should be the legal owner of pictures he snapped in 2011 using a camera set up by photographer David J. Slater.

The pictures included the famous "monkey selfie" and photos Naruto snapped of other monkeys.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick said PETA's argument for the monkey's ownership of selfie's copyright was a "stretch."

"I'm not the person to weigh into this," website ArsTechnica quoted Orrick as saying in court Wednesday. "This is an issue for Congress and the president. If they think animals should have the right of copyright they're free, I think, under the Constitution, to do that."

Orrick said he will dismiss the suit in an upcoming order.

PETA, which sought to use proceeds from Naruto's snapshots to benefit the monkeys of Indonesia, released a statement responding to the judge's announcement.

"Despite this setback, we are celebrating that legal history was made in our unprecedented argument to a federal court that Naruto, a crested macaque monkey, should be the owner of property (specifically, the copyright to the famous 'monkey selfie' photos that he undeniably took), rather than a mere piece of property himself," PETA general council Jeff Kerr said in the statement. "We will continue to fight for Naruto and his fellow macaques, who are in grave danger of being killed for bush meat or for foraging for food in a nearby village while their habitat disappears because of human encroachment."

The picture has been in dispute for more than a year. Website Wikimedia Commons posted some of the pictures snapped by the monkey last year, labeling them public domain, and Slater attempted to have them removed, claiming the copyright he obtained in Britain should be applied globally.

"I've told them it's not public domain, they've got no right to say that it's public domain. A monkey pressed the button, but I did all the setting up," Slater said in 2014.

Wikimedia refused to remove the pictures, saying Slater doesn't own the copyright on the image because he didn't shoot the photo himself.

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