A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled Monday that Naruto, a “crested macaque,” does not have legal standing to file a copyright claim against a nature photographer, as Naruto is not a person.
The case dates back to 2011, when British nature photographer David Slater was on a shoot on the Tangkoko reserve in Indonesia.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the advocacy group seeking to represent Naruto, then filed a lawsuit, saying that Naruto’s copyright of the image had been violated. In January 2016, a federal district judge in San Francisco ruled that Naruto had no standing: not being a person, he could not bring a lawsuit.
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has now affirmed that decision, despite the fact that the lawsuit settled in September. Slater agreed to donate 25 percent of future revenue of Naruto’s images to the Tangkoko reserve.
Of course, given that Slater does not own the photographs in question—Naruto did take them, after all—he cannot assert copyright over the images. According to the US Copyright Office, they are not copyrightable.
Still, the 9th Circuit derided PETA in a footnote:
We feel compelled to note that PETA’s deficiencies in this regard go far beyond its failure to plead a significant relationship with Naruto. Indeed, if any such relationship exists, PETA appears to have failed to live up to the title of “friend.” After seeing the proverbial writing on the wall at oral argument, PETA and Appellees filed a motion asking this court to dismiss Naruto’s appeal and to vacate the district court’s adverse judgment, representing that PETA’s claims against Slater had been settled. It remains unclear what claims PETA purported to be “settling,” since the court was under the impression this lawsuit was about Naruto’s claims, and per PETA’s motion, Naruto was “not a party to the settlement,” nor were Naruto’s claims settled therein. Nevertheless, PETA apparently obtained something from the settlement with Slater, although not anything that would necessarily go to Naruto: As “part of the arrangement,” Slater agreed to pay a quarter of his earnings from the monkey-selfie book “to charities that protect the habitat of Naruto and other crested macaques in Indonesia.”
PETA could, if it wished, ask the court to re-hear the case , or it could appeal further to the Supreme Court. However, both outcomes seem unlikely given the earlier settlement.
Ars was not able to reach Naruto.