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Naruto v. Slater

USDC, N.D. California, January 28, 2016

District court dismisses copyright infringement action brought on behalf of macaque monkey who took “selfies” using defendant photographer’s camera, holding that animals lack standing under the Copyright Act.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Antje Engelhardt filed a “Next Friends” complaint in California district court on behalf of a Naruto, a six-year-old crested macaque monkey, against photographer David John Slater, publisher Blurb Inc. and Wildlife Personalities Ltd. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants violated sections 106 and 501 of the Copyright Act by displaying, advertising and selling copies of Naruto’s “selfie” photographs. They alleged the defendants infringed on Naruto’s copyright on the selfies by “falsely claiming to be the photographs’ authors and by selling copies of the images” for profit, and claimed that Naruto is entitled to those profits.

In 2011, Naruto had taken photos of himself by examining and manipulating Slater’s unattended camera by “independent, autonomous motion” and by “purposely pushing” the shutter release, “understanding the cause-and-effect relationship between pressing the shutter release, the noise of the shutter, and the change to his reflection in the camera lens,” according to the plaintiffs’ complaint.

Defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds that Naruto lacked standing under Article III and the Copyright Act. The district court granted the defendants’ motion. Without ruling on Naruto’s standing under Article III, the court held that the Copyright Act does not confer standing upon animals. The Copyright Act did not “plainly” extend the concept of authorship or statutory standing to animals, as it should if Congress intended to take the “extraordinary step” of authorizing animals to sue. The court explained that the U.S. Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit have repeatedly referred to “persons” or “human beings” when analyzing copyright authorship, and found no cases expanding the definition of authors to include animals. The district court also noted that the Copyright Office has stated it will not register works produced by “nature, animals, or plants” including, by specific example, a “photograph taken by a monkey.”