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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
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Wildlife Photog Defeats ‘Monkey Selfie’ Suit

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A wildlife photographer has defeated a lawsuit claiming he violated copyright laws by asserting ownership over "monkey selfies."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued photographer David John Slater in September last year on behalf of Naruto, a 6-year-old crested macaque from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

In 2011, Naruto used his opposable thumbs to snap self-portraits with Slater's camera. The photos became known as the famous "monkey selfies."

PETA argued Naruto is the rightful copyright owner and that profits made from licensing and distributing those photos should go to benefit his endangered species and habitat.

Last month, U.S. District Judge William Orrick III dismissed the lawsuit with leave to amend, finding animals do not have standing to sue and cannot own copyrights under federal law.

PETA never filed an amended complaint and instead this week submitted a joint stipulation for judgment declaring the human photographer victorious in the lawsuit.

PETA's general counsel, David Perle, did not explain why the animal rights group decided not to file an amended complaint but said the group is still weighing its options on whether to file an appeal.

"We made an effective, historic argument to the court that Naruto, a crested macaque monkey, should own the copyright to the famous 'monkey selfie' photos that he undeniably took, just like any other photographer, rather than being considered a mere piece of property himself," Perlse said in an email. "We're still evaluating the court's decision to determine what our next steps should be."

Slater's attorney, Andrew Dhuey of Berkeley, said his client is "as pleased as a defendant can be" with the outcome.

Dhuey said the defendants, which include publisher Blurb Inc. and Wildlife Personalities Ltd., have deferred deciding on whether to pursue attorneys' fees against PETA for another day.

If PETA does appeal the ruling, Dhuey said the animal rights group will face the same hurdle that it did in district court, namely a 2004 Ninth Circuit ruling Cetacean Community v. Bush which held that animals lack legal standing to sue.

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