9th Circuit Court Rules Monkey Has No Standing to Assert Copyright Infringement

On April 23, 2018 the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a crested macaque named Naruto has no standing to assert copyright infringement. After wildlife photographer David Slater left his camera unattended on a reserve located in Indonesia, Naruto snapped a few selfies which Slater published in a wildlife book. Last September Slater settled a lawsuit brought by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in which he agreed to donate 25% of future gross revenue from the photo to charities dedicated to the protection and conservation of monkeys’ welfare and habitats in Indonesia. Despite the settlement the 9thCircuit Court still heard the case.
            Judge Carlos Bea, who wrote the majority opinion, stated, “We conclude that this monkey – and all animals, since they are not human – lacks statutory standing under the Copyright Act.” In partial concurrence, Judge N. Randy Smith said the courts had no jurisdiction to hear the case. Both judges were critical of PETA and its decision to settle after it appeared that they would lose the case on appeal. The group represented Naruto as a “next friend” because the primatologist who had studied Naruto since his birth and who also initiated the lawsuit decided to drop out of the case.
            Judge Bea concluded that PETA had not established a significant relationship with Naruto and “gravely doubts that PETA can validly assert ‘next friend’ status.” In common law, a “next friend” is a person who represents another person who is under disability or otherwise unable to maintain a lawsuit on his or her own behalf and who does not have a legal guardian. In any case, the law does not allow animals to represented under the “next friend” legal status. PETA’s “deficiencies” as next friend go beyond its failure to establish a significant relationship, Bea said, “After seeing the proverbial writing on the wall at oral arguments,” PETA sought to drop the appeal and vacate an adverse lower court judgment, all while maintaining that Naruto himself was not a party to the settlement.
            “Puzzlingly, while representing to the world that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way,” Bea wrote, “PETA seems to employ Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals.” Judge Smith asserted that PETA had brought a frivolous lawsuit in its real motivation to advance its own interests. “When it came down to a possible negative, precedential ruling from the panel,” Smith stated, “PETA quickly sought to protect the institution, not the claimed real party interest.”

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