A US court has ruled on appeal that Naruto, a macaque who took a selfie with a photographer’s camera in Indonesia in 2011, cannot file a copyright lawsuit against the photographer because the monkey is not a person.
Even though Naruto showed in the Indonesian jungle that he is an accomplished selfie maker, that does not make him a photographer, according to the federal court in San Francisco. And so the macaque cannot claim any copyright. The court upheld an earlier judgment from 2016.
It concerns a situation from 2011, when British wildlife photographer David Slater traveled to an Indonesian nature reserve in the tropical rainforest on the island of Sulawesi. Naruto, a crested macaque, grabbed the Brit’s tripod-mounted camera and created a priceless selfie with the push of a button.
However, Slater couldn’t enjoy it financially, because animal rights organization PETA filed a lawsuit against Slater on behalf of the monkey, believing that Naruto owned the copyright to the photo. PETA’s claim was denied, but because the animal rights organization wanted to pursue further litigation, both sides reached a settlement: Slater was to donate 25 percent of all future revenue from Naruto’s selfies to charitable organizations that protect the macaque’s habitat.
The judge made another comment about that settlement in his ruling, because it ultimately brought the monkey nothing, Ars Technica noted. The judge said: “It remains unclear which claims PETA has finally ‘settled’, because the court believed that this lawsuit was about Naruto’s claims, but that PETA indicated that Naruto is not a party to the settlement and that his requirements are also not suitable.” Despite the settlement, the lawsuit still ended up on appeal because the judge considered a ruling important in this “developing area of law,” according to Time.
However, it is also not the case that Slater owns the copyright to the photos. According to the US copyright office, Naruto took the photos and Slater does not own them. This means that no copyright can rest on the photos at all.