A crested macaque monkey who lives in a rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi can not legally own the copyright to his own selfie, even if he pressed the button to take the photo himself. That is the tentative opinion of a federal judge in San Francisco, where the case was brought by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), following a battle waged between a photographer and Wikipedia. As ABC 7 reports, PETA filed suit in the case last year, arguing that not only should the monkey own the copyright, but that proceeds from the photos ought to go toward protecting the monkey's habitat.
British nature photographer David Slater originally facilitated the photographs of Naruto, the six-year-old monkey, on a trip to Indonesia in 2011. He and the company for which he shot the photos, Wildlife Personalities Ltd, subsequently had to sue Wikimedia Commons in 2014, claiming that he's lost money since the photo was posted to Wikipedia which assumed the photo was ineligible for copyright and the site has still refused to remove the photo.
As the Guardian reports, the US Copyright Office subsequently updated its own policies in 2015 to clarify that copyrights can only be registered for works produced by human beings. So, yes, these elephant paintings can't be owned by the elephants who painted them.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick wrote in his tentative opinion Wednesday that there is "no indication" that the US Copyright Act should extend to animals. As Ars Technica reports, Orrick said from the bench, "I'm not the person to weigh into this. This is an issue for Congress and the president. If they think animals should have the right of copyright they're free, I think, under the Constitution, to do that."
Meanwhile, the internet has already decided that this case is dumb, and Slater's attorney, who's asking Orrick to dismiss the case, said, "I slapped my forehead like everybody else did," when he heard about the lawsuit.
PETA, nevertheless, is a master at publicity they also made headlines this week delivering vegan jerky to the Oregon militiamen. And their attorney, Jeff Kerr, who says he's representing Naruto the monkey, still contends, "Naruto created [the photos], and he should be entitled to the copyright in those photos just like any other photographer."
PETA's official statement today said, in part, "We will continue to fight for Naruto and his community, who are in grave danger of being killed for bush meat or for foraging for food in a nearby village while their habitat disappears because of human encroachment. This case is a vital step toward fundamental rights for nonhuman animals for their own sake, not in relation to how they can be exploited by humans."
The judge is expected to leave the door open for PETA to amend its complaint.
Meanwhile, outside the court, Wednesday, ABC 7's Jonathan Bloom made a funny: