On Wednesday morning, a federal appellate court heard arguments about if an animal can hold a valid copyright. Specifically, can a monkey own the copyright to his selfies?
Let’s start with the obvious questions that are on everyone’s minds: Where are the pictures/videos of a monkey arguing his case up in San Francisco? How chic was his suit? Where did he go to law school?
Well, it turns out that the monkey (“Naruto”) did not file the lawsuit himself, because that would just be ridiculous. However, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (aka PETA) did file the lawsuit on Naruto’s behalf. PETA sued both the photographer David Slater and publisher Blurb for copyright infringement for their collaboration to publish a book called “Wildlife Personalities” that features Naruto’s selfie. PETA argued that all the proceeds from the photos should be given to a wildlife reserve to benefit the monkey.
Selfies are photos that someone takes of themselves, so PETA argued that because Naruto took the photos himself he is the author of the works and entitled to the proceeds from the photos. Last year a federal judge ruled against PETA based on the obvious fact that Congress did not intend copyright ownership to apply to animals, but the animal loving group continued to hold strong to its argument for broad authorship.
To qualify for copyright protection a work must be an original work of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression. The courts have held that the copyright act requires human authorship, and have denied protection for works authored by celestial beings or computers. So rest assured all of your lovely Snapchat filtered selfies can qualify for copyright protection.
Even if the court finds that Naruto is the author, PETA will also have to prove that Naruto was injured by the alleged infringement. The court expressed its doubts as to how an animal could be harmed by the infringement given the fact that animals do not have reputations that could be damaged and cannot acquire money.
Shockingly, Naruto did not attend the hearing or comment on the case. Andrew Dhuey, attorney for Slater, joked about Naruto’s rookie mistake of not appearing in court saying, “It’s like he doesn’t even care.”
We will have to wait and see what the court decides but so far this suit is B-A-N-A-N-A-S.