Monkey-selfie lawsuit finally ends: Court affirms adorable macaque can’t sue

From Ars Technica:

A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled Monday that Naruto, a “crested macaque,” does not have legal standing to file a copyright claim against a nature photographer, as Naruto is not a person.

The case dates back to 2011, when British nature photographer David Slater was on a shoot on the Tangkoko reserve in Indonesia. Naruto somehow swiped Slater’s camera and managed to snap a few pictures. Slater later published a book, including some of the so-called “monkey selfie” images.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the advocacy group seeking to represent Naruto, then filed a lawsuit, saying that Naruto’s copyright of the image had been violated. In January 2016, a federal district judge in San Francisco ruled that Naruto had no standing: not being a person, he could not bring a lawsuit.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has now affirmed that decision, despite the fact that the lawsuit settled in September. Slater agreed to donate 25 percent of future revenue of Naruto’s images to the Tangkoko reserve.

Of course, given that Slater does not own the photographs in question—Naruto did take them, after all—he cannot assert copyright over the images. According to the US Copyright Office, they are not copyrightable.

Link to the rest at Ars Technica

From a footnote to the Court’s decision:

We feel compelled to note that PETA’s deficiencies in this regard go far beyond its failure to plead a significant relationship with Naruto. Indeed, if any such relationship exists, PETA appears to have failed to live up to the title of “friend.”

. . . .

PETA apparently obtained something from the settlement with Slater, although not anything that would necessarily go to Naruto: As “part of the arrangement,” Slater agreed to pay a quarter of his earnings from the monkey-selfie book “to charities that protect the habitat of Naruto and other crested macaques in Indonesia.

The greatly-assailed photographer undoubtedly wants to stay in the jungle and out of the courtroom for the remainder of his life, but PG wishes he would sue PETA for his damages, including legal fees.

PG suggests the trial judge should have booted PETA out of court on the photographer’s first request that it do so.

For visitors from overseas, in PG’s fully-evolved-from-apes opinion, this case is an example of something called lawfare in the United States. Resolution of a legitimate dispute is not the objective of lawfare. Punishing someone who has violated some unwritten rule (or establishing some unwritten rule that has never been established before) is the real objective of lawfare.

While one might point to the Naruto litigation as a good publicity stunt for PETA, Mr. Slater, the photographer in question, has had to pay real money (and a lot of it) to defend himself from this lawsuit and talking to lawyers, diminishing or eliminating the time he would have spent taking photographs of wildlife in order to support himself.

Although PG no longer represents clients in litigation matters, from his past experience doing so, he can attest that being a party in a court case takes a significant emotional toll on most people. He wishes Mr. Slater well and hopes he continues his career with great success.

10 thoughts on “Monkey-selfie lawsuit finally ends: Court affirms adorable macaque can’t sue”

  1. PETA persecuted this guy for no good reason. And that a court took up this ridiculous case makes me want to puke. You’re right, they should have been “booted.”

  2. PETA not only should have had their case dismissed, they should have been fined. If there’s no legal grounds for assessing a fine against an organization for pursuing a frivolous, punitive lawsuit against an individual, there should be.

    • Rachel, there is (see response to allynh below), but it’s incredibly convoluted and difficult. Of course, the photographer COULD try to get his fees under § 505 of the Copyright Act and the so-called Fogerty factors, but in this case it’s almost certain (consistent with other Ninth Circuit cases*) that the court would not impose attorney’s fees on PETA. The fact that the ultimate appellate decision in this case is a REPORTED, precedential decision that explicitly says the question hadn’t been previously decided weighs strongly against imposing attorney’s fees on the unsuccessful plaintiff.

      * Disclosure: It’s nonprecedential, but I have personally litigated a number of these and the District Court judges in California are almost unanimously predisposed to NOT grant fees when ANY portion of the case is based on an unsettled question of law. See, e.g., Ellison v. Robertson, No. 00-4321 (C.D. Cal.), Doc. 222 (15 May 2002), available at

  3. I’m saying this ironically, but I always thought that if you have a group of people conspiring together to use the law to extort money from someone, that they should be charged for racketeering and extortion(RICO) by the Justice Department.

    But then, that’s just me. HA!

    • … except, allynh, that petitioning the government and/or the courts is carved out from RICO and similar statutes (and the antitrust laws). Instead, the courts are supposed to “self-police” matters of this nature as “vexatious litigation” under 18 U.S.C. § 1927, and the shabby-genteel nature of the Bar means that is seldom brought, even more seldom successful, and NEVER the basis for bar discipline.

      That is, RICO “sounds like” the the place to look, but the First Amendment’s right to petition the government trumps it.

  4. I’ve always thought this case was patently ridiculous. After all, what authority does anyone have for pursuing this case “on the monkey’s behalf”? It’s not like he went looking for an attorney.

  5. PETA is a radical group that doesn’t care a shred about animal welfare or animal rights.

    They want to force humans to give up any contact with animals and believe that all domestic animals should be killed in order to end their slavery.

    To me, they are an example of an extremist organization that can and has resorted to lying, kidnapping pets and crime.

    • I’ve always seen them as barely a step above VHEMT (for those playing at home, that’s a ‘voluntary’ human extinction environmentalist movement). I have ever since finding out their “rescue” shelters are effectively kill centers. How anyone can take them seriously, or think they’re trying to help animals as they claim, is beyond me.

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