Don't try to monkey with copyright laws.
That's the message a US appeals court seemed to deliver Monday to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, ruling that monkeys lack standing to sue for copyright protection and animal rights groups can't act as legal guardian in such matters.
The bizarre legal journey began when a crested macaque monkey named Naruto took selfies using British nature photographer David Slater's camera during a 2011 trip to Indonesia. The photos, captured when the monkey grabbed Slater's camera, posed and clicked, became an instant hit, appearing in newspapers, magazines, websites and on TV shows around the world.
But it took a controversial turn when Slater threatened to sue Wikimedia, a database of millions of images, videos and audio files that are free for anyone to use. PETAand self-publishing company Blurb in 2015, arguing the monkey owned the copyright to the photos and proposing it administer all proceeds for the benefit of the monkey.
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appealslast July, with the San Francisco panel asking PETA's attorney why the group should represent the monkey's interests.
The court found that PETA couldn't represent Naruto as a "next friend" because it couldn't establish it had a relationship with the monkey allowing to serve as a legal guardian in a court proceeding and because current law didn't grant animals such legal representation.
"The panel held that the monkey lacked statutory standing because the Copyright Act does not expressly authorize animals to file copyright infringement suits," judges for the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals said in their ruling (see below).
The court also questioned PETA's motivation in filing and pursuing the case.
"Puzzlingly, while representing to the world that 'animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any way,'" court said, "PETA seems to employ Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals."
The court "missed the point," PETA said in a statement.
"Naruto the macaque undeniably took the photos, and denying him the right to sue under the US Copyright Act emphasizes what PETA has argued all along -- that he is discriminated against simply because he's a nonhuman animal," the organization said.
The matter landed in the courts in 2015 after Wikimedia, the US-based nonprofit behind Wikipedia, told Slater he didn't own the copyright to the images, thereby depriving him of revenue from licensing them for publication. In 2016, a federal judge ruled that copyright law does not apply to animals.
Under a settlement agreement reached last year with PETA, Slater would retain the rights to the photos, but he would donate 25 percent of future revenue derived from the images to charities that protect Naruto and other crested macaque monkeys.
It wasn't immediately clear how or if Monday's ruling would affect the settlement.
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