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Can This Monkey Copyright His Selfie?

Matthew Swanland is the founder of Los Angeles based law firm Aesthetic Legal. He specializes in assisting creative artists in registering copyrights, conducting due diligence on trademarks and legally enforcing intellectual property rights. Additionally, Matthew works with larger entities, including museums and art galleries, to negotiate agreements for art installations or sales. Below is a commentary Matthew wrote outlining Naruto the Monkey's copyright suit involving his selfie taken with another primate's camera. You read that right the first time....

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case of a crested macaque named Naruto and photographer David Slater, who published the photos in a wildlife book. Naruto had snapped the selfies in 2011 after Slater left the camera unattended on a reserve in Indonesia.

Slater had settled a suit by PETA last September when he agreed to donate 25 percent of future gross revenue from the photo to charities dedicated to protecting monkey welfare and habitat in Indonesia. The 9th Circuit said it would hear the case despite the settlement.

Judge Carlos Bea wrote the majority opinion. “We conclude that this monkey—and all animals, since they are not human—lacks statutory standing under the Copyright Act,” Bea wrote. That outcome was no surprise.

What was unusual was the criticism it leveled at PETA and in the course of doing so, questioning just what sort of “friend” the organization was to Naruto. “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,’ PETA seems to employ Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals,” the court wrote. Ouch."

Copyright infringement is no joke. We have experienced first hand how it can cause the actual loss of income for an artist as well as create a mountain of legal fees in their fight to regain control of their images. While we respect Naruto's artistic vision and wish him the best in all his endeavors, we're not so sure he needs the same level of protection as our photographer friends with opposable thumbs.

About the author

Courtney Paulson

Courtney Paulson

Courtney has over a decade of experience in the fine art world. Most of all, she enjoys connecting people with a work of art that they will love and enjoy every day.