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The strange case of the monkey selfie

In a fascinating ruling, the US Ninth Circuit has ruled in the case of the monkey who took a selfie.

Naruto, a macaque from Indonesia, did not bring the case himself. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), the radical animal-rights organisation, acted on his behalf. Although the Ninth Circuit is know for its liberal views, there was much surprise that the court agreed to take the case in the first place.

The core question was whether a monkey could own a copyright. Naruto had helped himself to a photographer’s camera and taken the picture himself. The photographer had then published the picture  in a book – without Naruto’s permission.

To no one’s surprise, the Ninth Circuit decided monkeys could not own copyright. But they also criticised PETA. PETA had settled a separate action with the photographer, who had agreed to donate 25% of his royalties. The court noted that the donation would not directly benefit Naruto. They, therefore, questioned whether PETA could properly claim to represent him. And even suggested that, had Naruto been human, he might have had reason to sue PETA.

We’d better get used to this sort of thing. It’s likely there will be many more cases where animal rights get tested in human courts. Spain passed legislation granting rights, of a kind, to apes some time back.