A “cutting-edge legal question” of copyright ownership

Lawsuit filed by PETA has raised concerns about standing

Nowadays a self portrait photograph might be considered as common. The selfie has already acquired a place in our society when even the political elite, as President Barack Obama or Chancellor Angela Merkel does, tend to take photographs of itself.
Apart from this trend, legal experts now face the novel problem to deal with a selfie taken by a macaque monkey and the emerging question of the legitimate owner of the photographs.
The animal rights group PETA at least filed a lawsuit on behalf of the macaque monkey, better known as Naruto, seeking the monkey to be declared the copyright owner, rather than the nature photographer and self-proclaimed advocate of animal rights David Slater who positioned the camera. PETA claims that all benefits arising from the sale and distribution shall be assigned to the monkey with PETA using the money to preserve Naruto’s habitat on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
Adversaries of PETA’s motion claim to dismiss the case pending before U.S. District Judge William Orrick III of the Northern District of California for lack of standing. Admittedly, animals may have standing to sue under the Endangered Species Act, the Ninth Circuit case law does not apply under the Copyright Act: “unless Congress has plainly stated that animals have standing to sue, the federal courts will not read any legislation to confer statutory standing to animals”, Berkeley solo Andrew Dhuey points out. Beyond the issue of legal standing, Angela Dunning representing the book creation website Blurb, indicates that PETA’s complaint may also be ill-founded with respect to the represented monkey because PETA describes Naruto as a male macaque, while Slater’s notes indicate that the respective monkey was female.
Furthermore, the desire to seek a court order declaring Naruto the legitimate copyright owner may have little prospect to success according to David Favre, a Michigan State law professor. PETA may have a fair argument but it is still “an uphill battle”.
Cheryl Dancey Balough, a copyright specialist lawyer from Chicago, emphasizes that Slater bears the burden of proof to demonstrate that his contribution to the selfies rises to a sufficient level that warrants a copyright.
However, Jeffrey Kerr, PETA’s lawyer, considers the scope of the Copyright Act not be limited to any species so that “copyright law is clear: it’s not the person who owns the camera, it’s the being who took the photograph.”

Best regards
und viele Grüße aus Charlotte
Reinhard von Hennigs