Monkey See, Monkey Dismiss: Naruto Loses Copyright Bid For Coolest Selfie Ever

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In what some deemed "a goofy yet vicious" lawsuit against a (human) nature photographer, the often-sketchy People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have lost their years-long court battle for copyright ownership of this terrific selfie taken by Naruto, an endangered but obviously gifted six-year-old macaque monkey in Indonesia. On Wednesday, US District Judge William Orrick tentatively ruled against the suit, citing a 2014 finding by the U.S. Copyright Office thatworks “produced by nature, animals or plants” cannot be granted copyright protection and are thus in the public domain. PETA's argument that the policy is "only an opinion (with) no limit on species,” he added, was "a stretch."

The case - focusing on the age-old question, If a monkey takes a selfie in the woods and it goes viral, who gets the big bucks? - has wound through the courts since 2011, after a jungle shoot by British photographer David Slater in Indonesia's Tangkoko reserve. After spending days building trust with a group of macaque, Slater left his camera untended on a tripod for a few minutes, the curious animals began playing with it, and Naruto's series of selfies emerged. After the shots were widely and freely reprinted, Slater sought copyright of the image for his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd. But PETA, filing under the legal designation of Naruto's "next friend," sued for copyright infringement.

They argued that Naruto created the selfies through “purposeful and voluntary actions...…understanding the (camera's) cause-and-effect relationship. “Naruto has the right to own and benefit from the copyright (in) the same manner and to the same extent as any other author.” Seeking monetary damages, they sought to use the proceeds of the photos to benefit Naruto and his community, whose habitat and existence are under threat. PETA lawyers cited lofty arguments about society's "moral imperative" to foster further evolution and recognize that, "All animals deserve basic legal rights that reflect their complex traits and needs....So what if they aren't people? They are whole beings of another nation."

Harumph, said many critics, who considered the broader issue questionable, the legal one "an uphill battle," and the dragging of a photographer into court a dumb stunt that "trivializes the terrible problems of needless animal slaughter and avoidable animal exploitation." Slater called the lawsuit "ridiculous," adding he was saddened it "makes animal welfare charities look bad." His lawyer might be the only person who enjoyed the whole thing even before the judge's ruling: He got to use the phrase "Monkey See, Monkey Dismiss," memorably argue "the only pertinent fact in this case is that plaintiff is a monkey suing for copy infringement," and get paid for it. No word from Naruto, though it's easy to imagine them making that grinning selfie face at the unholy foolishness of our species.

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