Court Hands Down Verdict in ‘Monkey See, Monkey Selfie’ Case

It’s not the equivalent of the Scope Monkey Trial of 1925, but another legal case with a primate at the center of it has found its way into American culture.

Unlike the Scopes trial, which addressed the weighty subject of biological evolution, this case is a comical farce of a lawsuit over photo selfies.

‘Monkey See Monkey Sue’

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has recently ruled on a 2011 lawsuit filed by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) over photographs inadvertently taken of an Indonesian crested macaque, named Naruto, by British nature photographer David Slater, reports the Huffington Post.

Slater had set up a camera in an Indonesian jungle that he would operate from a remote location. Somehow Naruto ‘tripped’ the camera as he investigated the device, prompting a bunch of what PETA says are ‘selfies’.

Discovering the pictures, Slater began to sell them, but PETA sued claiming that the images were “original works of authorship” by Naruto.

Rise of the Courtroom of the Apes

Surprisingly, the 9th Circuit thought PETA’s claim was too extreme and shot down the suit.

“We must determine whether a monkey may sue humans, corporations, and companies for damages and injunctive relief arising from claims of copyright infringement,” Judge Carlos Bea wrote in the opinion for the majority. “We conclude that this monkey — and all animals, since they are not human — lacks statutory standing under the Copyright Act.”

A lower court ruling ridiculed PETA’s ideological-driven lawsuit with the quip, “Monkey see, monkey sue is not good law.”

PETA appealed on the grounds that the Constitution did not specify that non-humans were excluded from copyright laws. Slater and PETA did work out a compromise, with the photographer offering the proceeds of 25 pictures to the habitats where crested macaques live.

The 9th Circuit, however, took up the case anyway. The court slammed PETA as a extremist group that employed “Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals.”

Judge N. Randy Smith, in the majority opinion, wrote, “We have no idea whether animals … wish to own copyrights or open bank accounts to hold their royalties from sales of pictures.”

The exposed ludicrousness of PETA’s suit did nothing to humble the organization.

Huffington Post writes, “The court only ruled on Naruto’s standing concerning the Copyright Act, PETA’s general counsel, Jeff Kerr noted. He said that ‘nonhuman animals’ still have a ‘constitutional right to bring a case to federal court when they’ve been wronged.’”

You may or may not like the court’s decision, but one thing we all can agree on is… that’s one photogenic primate!

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