A federal appeals court has affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of the infamous monkey selfie case, on the grounds that “the Copyright Act does not expressly authorize animals to file copyright infringement claims under the statute.”
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is located in San Francisco, handed down the ruling yesterday in Naruto V. Slater, a case that pitted a macaque monkey named Naruto against a photographer named David Slater. The monkey allegedly grabbed Slater’s camera in 2011 when the photographer left it unattended, and shot a selfie that Slater later distributed.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued Slater for copyright infringement in 2015 on behalf of the monkey. A federal district court in California dismissed the claim in 2016, on the grounds that animals have no standing under the Copyright Act to make infringement claims. PETA appealed the lower court ruling.
Slater reached a settlement agreement with PETA last summer, a month after they argued the case in front of the appeals court. Slater and PETA then filed a joint motion asking the court to dismiss their appeal. But the appeals court refused to dismiss, indicating that it didn’t want the parties settling a case that had already been argued just to manipulate legal precedent or avoid an adverse decision.
By refusing to dismiss, the court was sent a message aimed mostly at PETA, which was trying to establish a legal precedent for animals. During oral arguments last July, PETA faced tough, skeptical questioning from the appeals court judges.
The appeals court said in its ruling yesterday that while Naruto has legal standing in court under Article III of the US Constitution, he has no standing to claim copyright infringement in particular because the Copyright Act authorizes people to sue, but not animals. One of the appeals court judges called PETA’s lawsuit “frivolous.”
In addition to rejecting PETA’s claim on behalf of Naruto, the appeals court ruled that PETA must pay Slater’s attorney’s fees and costs for the appeal. The case was remanded to the lower court to determine those fees and costs.
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