Photographer David Slater has won his legal battle over that monkey selfie. A US appeals court ruled Monday that US copyright law doesn’t allow animals to file copyright infringement lawsuits.
The decision, made by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, upheld a lower-court ruling that previously reached the same conclusion.
Slater and the animal rights group PETA, which sued Slater in 2015 on behalf of the monkey (named Naruto), reached a settlement last year to drop the case (with Slater agreeing to donate 25% of his profits from the photos to charities to protect Naruto). But the court decided to reject the request to have the case dismissed this month, stating that it wanted a legal precedent to be set for similar cases in the future.
That precedent is now established: humans can file copyright lawsuits, not animals.
“While Congress and the president can extend the protection of law to animals as well as humans, there is no indication that they did so in the Copyright Act,” U.S. District Judge William Orrick wrote in his original ruling in 2016.
“[T]he Copyright Act does not expressly authorize animals to file copyright infringement suits,” the three-judge panel in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously confirmed yesterday.
In addition to ruling in Slater’s favor, the court slammed PETA for its actions and accused the organization of using Naruto as a pawn while pretending to be a “friend”:
[…] PETA appears to have failed to live up to the title of “friend.” […] [I]n the wake of PETA’s proposed dismissal, Naruto is left without an advocate, his supposed “friend” having abandoned Naruto’s substantive claims in what appears to be an effort to prevent the publication of a decision adverse to PETA’s institutional interests. Were he capable of recognizing this abandonment, we wonder whether Naruto might initiate an action for breach of confidential relationship against his (former) next friend, PETA, for its failure to pursue his interests before its own. Puzzlingly, while representing to the world that “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way,” PETA seems to employ Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals.
PETA has yet to decide if it will appeal the ruling, and its lawyer, Jeff Kerr, tells TIME: “Naruto should be considered the author and copyright owner, and he shouldn’t be treated any differently from any other creator simply because he happens to not be human.”
Image credits: Header photos by David Slater