During September of 2015, People for the Extortion, Torture and Abuse of human beings (aka PETA) filed a lawsuit on behalf of a macaque monkey named Naruto in federal court in San Francisco. The group claimed the animal was the copyright holder of selfies he took with the camera of a nature photographer.
Naruto snapped photos of himself with a camera positioned by British photographer David Slater on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Slater’s defense was that he was the intellect behind the photos and was the rightful copyright holder since the photographs were taken with his camera. Slater (himself a self proclaimed animal rights supporter) also points out he set up the camera so that a monkey could take pictures of himself.
The selfies were part of a project David Slater had undertaken for a new book titled Wildlife Personalities that includes a number of selfie photos taken by other animals too. During 2014, the US Copyright Office amended its policy stating that submissions for original products would only be accepted if they were made by humans. PETA stated in its case that the decision by the Copyright Office was just an opinion and that copyright law states that the owner of a photograph is the person who takes it and not the camera owner.
Fortunately, during January of last year, U.S. District Judge William Orrick rejected PETA’s assertions, stating that there is no indication that copyright law applies to animals.
The Associated Press reveals that PETA has filed an appeal to the January 2016 district court ruling and recently presented arguments in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
What is of note, during the proceedings the three-judge panel hearing the case asked PETA attorney, David Schwartz, why they should be allowed to represent Naruto’s interests. Attorney Schwartz replied that a case like this has never been heard before and asked the court to define the monkey’s authorship for copyright purposes.
Despite the court not rendering a decision, attorney Angela Dunning representing the publishing company that published the monkey photos, Blurb, told AP she felt the court will side with the company. She correctly points out that Naruto not only does not know what is going on but cannot give permission to use the selfies much less financially benefit from them.
Animals lack the faculties of rational though or sense of morality that human beings have which is why they cannot and should not be given the same rights as humans. An animal’s primary means of survival is predatory instincts and sensory perception. In terms of the controversy, the monkey in question conducted his act based on his instincts and not necessarily based on any ability on his part to take selfies.
Hypothetically, if Naruto did have the same thinking abilities as a human, the monkey took that photo having some knowledge of the risks involved. In a proper copyright case, the dispute would, most likely center on the intent of the owner of the camera and if it was legal for him to profit over Naruto’s photo in order to make money.
If PETA is successful, a court decision in their favor would be a legal, philosophical and moral disaster. A legal case recognizing any rights for an animal would open a Pandora’s Box of litigation that would eventually destroy individual rights. Consequently, the result will be the destruction of human life since human rights will be on par with beings (animals) who lack any sense of morality and whose kingdom’s primary ethic is one of savagery. This is ultimately what groups like PETA want. Here is hoping Blurb prevails.