Monkey can not get money from copyright, court told as selfie battle continues

A curious monkey with a toothy grin and a knack for pressing a camera button was back in the spotlight as a US appeals court heard arguments on whether an animal can hold a copyright to selfies.

A 45-minute hearing before a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Wednesday attracted crowds of law students and curious citizens who often burst into laughter.

The federal judges also chuckled at times at the novelty of the case, which involves a monkey in another country that is unaware of the fuss.

File photo of a monkey
File photo of a monkey

Lawyer Angela Dunning said the monkey named Naruto could not hold a copyright because he cannot benefit financially from his work.

She represents Blurb, a San Francisco-based company that published a book with the selfies taken in Indonesia with an unattended camera belonging to British photographer David Slater.

Mr Slater says the British copyright for the photos obtained by his company should be honoured worldwide.

His lawyer Andrew Dhuey asked the court to end the lawsuit, saying "monkey see, monkey sue" is not good law under any federal act.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued Mr Slater and Blurb for copyright infringement.

It sought a court order in 2015 allowing it to administer all proceeds from the photos taken in a wildlife reserve in Sulawesi to benefit the monkey.

PETA attorney David Schwarz argued that Naruto was accustomed to cameras and took the selfies when he saw himself in the reflection of the lens.

A federal judge ruled against PETA and the monkey last year, saying he lacked the right to sue because there was no indication that Congress intended to extend copyright protection to animals.

Throughout Wednesday's hearing, Mr Schwarz pushed back, arguing that the case came down to one simple fact: photographs can be copyrighted and Naruto is the author.

"We have to look at the word 'authorship' in the broadest sense," he said.

The judges grilled him on why PETA has status to represent Naruto and said that "having genuine care for the animal" is not enough to establish a "next friend" relationship, which is required to represent the monkey in court.

"Where does it end? If a monkey can sue for copyright infringement, what else can a monkey do?" Ms Dunning said after the hearing.

PETA's general counsel Jeff Kerr said after the hearing that the group plans to use money from the photos to protect monkey habitats and help people study the monkeys.

"PETA is clearly representing Naruto's best interests," he said.

Mr Dhuey said the legal antics were more of a publicity stunt by PETA than a lawsuit.

He quipped after the hearing that Naruto made a tactical mistake by not appearing in court.

"It's like he doesn't even care," he said before walking away from cameras.

The court did not issue a ruling on Wednesday.


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