Animal Law

PETA lawyer discusses monkey's copyright suit over selfie

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Monkey selfie in dispute from Wikimedia Commons.

The U.S. Copyright Office has said that a monkey can’t be the author of a copyrighted work.

But a lawsuit filed last week on behalf of Naruto, who is allegedly the monkey whose toothy selfies sparked an Internet sensation, is asking a federal court to find otherwise.

In an interview with Motherboard, general counsel Jeffrey Kerr of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which filed suit on behalf of the male Sulawesi crested macaque, responds to the blog’s skepticism that a monkey in an Indonesian rainforest should have his day in court.

How can PETA even be sure, the blog and others wondered, that the monkey in the selfies is, in fact, Naruto? Researchers at Macaca Nigra Project have been following him since his birth and recognize him, according to Kerr.

That didn’t persuade nature photographer David Slater, who is named as a defendant in the Northern District of California case because he attempted to assert a copyright based on the monkey’s use of his unattended camera. (It appears that Slater may not qualify as the author for copyright purposes either, since he didn’t actually take the photos.)

“All you need to know is PETA have no proof they are talking about the same monkey,” Slater told Motherboard. “They hope you will buy into their stunt because an expert is willing to say her monkey is the one in my photos without proof.”

Meanwhile, jurisdiction may also be doubtful, Motherboard suggests. While the suit was filed in California, Slater lives in the United Kingdom, the monkey is in Indonesia and PETA is incorporated in Virginia, the blog points out.

However, Kerr says the connection to California is clearcut: A San Francisco company known as Blurb Inc. contracted with Slater to publish a book that includes the monkey selfies, he explained. “So the infringing conduct is taking place in San Francisco. The book is available for sale and it is sold and shipped from San Francisco. That is why jurisdiction and venue is proper there. “

The complaint (PDF) says Blurb is incorporated in Delaware.

Related coverage: “Who owns the copyright to monkey’s selfie? Wikimedia denies photographer’s takedown request”

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