A US federal judge has (unsurprisingly) found that a Celebes
crested macaque monkey cannot be the copyright owner of a series of
"selfie" photographs created in Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Where was the legal controversy?
Who was the photographer: Monkey v Man?
The monkey, identified as six-year-old "Naruto", took
the photographs using equipment belonging to nature photographer
David Slater. The People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
commenced a lawsuit in San Francisco in 2015 seeking a court order
to allow PETA to collect proceeds from the photos on behalf of
Naruto and to be distributed for the benefit of Naruto and other
macaques on the reserve in Indonesia.
The British photographer asserts that his company owns copyright
in the photographs, as the photographs came about due to his
engineering of the shots – Slater alleges he deliberately
left his camera set up on a tripod with the remote trigger
accessible to the monkeys in the likelihood of a photo being
Slater registered copyright ownership in the photographs in the
UK, and has argued that this ownership should be recognised
worldwide. However, despite his registration there has been debate
around whether Slater should really be considered the author of the
The question of who owns copyright in a photograph goes beyond
who owned the camera. In Australia, the copyright owner will
usually be the person who took the photograph. In this situation,
many argue that Slater can't really be said to have taken the
photographs of Naruto. The photographs came about through the
confluence of circumstances, some of which were conceived of by
Slater, but others which were beyond his control. However, it is
reasonable to think that there could be a situation in which a
person has asserted enough control and artistic endeavor in
creating an image, even if some input is provided by an animal,
that they will be considered to be the author and copyright owner
in the resulting photograph.
So, if Slater isn't the photographer, is Naruto the monkey
the photographer? And does she have any rights of her own?
In short, no.
US District Judge William Orrick has indicated he intends to
refuse PETA's request, saying that the US Copyright Act did not
extend to the protection of the rights of animals. Similarly in
Australia, the author of a photograph must have legal personality
and this does not include animals.
If neither Slater nor the monkey authored the photographs, then
there is no copyright in the images and third parties can make use
of the photographs without requiring any license.
Copyright law is an important and complex area of law that
impacts everyday life. There can be serious consequences for misuse
of the intellectual property of others, including reproducing
photographs on social networking platforms. If in doubt, seek legal
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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The Ugg boots case revolves around who holds the trade mark rights to the word 'Ugg' in relation to sheepskin boots.
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