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Monkey business in court: Copyright dispute over macaque selfie

Monkey business in court: Copyright dispute over macaque selfie

A federal appeals court in California threw a monkey wrench into a copyright dispute recently by refusing to dismiss the case of Naruto, the selfie-taking simian.

In a decision that some will surely say was bananas, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on April 13 ruled that the saga of Naruto, a Crested Macaque, by and through his Next Friends, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Inc. vs David John Slater; et al. has to hang on the vine a little longer.

Our story begins in Indonesia, according to news accounts, when nature photographer David Slater was taking pictures of the endangered Sulawesi crested macaque in 2011 and set up his camera equipment in a way that a selfie picture might occur.

One probing primate, possibly named “Naruto,” knuckle-walked on over and snapped a series of photos of his own mug.

But then Wikimedia Common posted the photos and a controversy grew faster than King Kong climbing up the Empire State Building. Wikimedia maintained the photos were public domain, declaring that monkeys cannot own a copyright to a picture they take.

The U.S. Copyright office updated its manual in 2014 so that a photograph taken by a monkey is not a “fruit of intellectual labor” and is not protected by copyright law.

A legal battle ensued, PETA got involved, claiming the monkey should be the owner of the image and the proceeds, and things started going ape. Finally, all sides agreed to quit the monkey business and it looked like the show was over.

And that’s when the Ninth Circuit Court of A-Peels came swinging in, declaring that “the grant of a voluntary dismissal is not mandatory, and sometimes neither is it advisable.”

“Our sister circuits have found a number of circumstances,” the judges wrote in their decision, “in which it is appropriate for the court to deny requests for voluntary dismissal and vacatur. We believe the rationale of those cases applies here.”

The justices cited similar cases and quoted a colleague who had warned that “courts must be particularly wary of abetting ‘strategic behavior’ on the part of institutional litigants whose continuing interest in the development in the law may transcend their immediate interest in the outcome of a particular case.”

All parties appear now to be heading back to court where they may find the missing link.







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