All.Corporate & Commercial.Intellectual Property & Technology

Five years ago, we would not have fathomed a story like this, let alone actually writing about it...but it's simply too good to pass up. A curious macaque monkey has been stirring up trouble in San Francisco with the US Circuit Court of Appeals hearing arguments as to whether animals have capacity to hold the copyright to "selfie"* images. Hashtag facepalm.

In 2011, on a trip to Indonesia, wildlife photographer David Slater met the macaque who pressed the shutter button on his camera numerous times.

Fast forward to 2014 when the image was published in the online collaborative encyclopaedia, Wikipedia. Slater requested the image to be taken down, alleging that he held the copyright over the images. Wikipedia, oddly, would not comply. Later that year, Slater published the photographs of the macaque monkey in his book, Wildlife Personalities. In September 2015, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) commenced legal proceedings against Slater and the book's publishing company requesting that the monkey, since named Naruto, be formally assigned the copyright and that PETA administer all proceeds from the photos for the benefit of the monkey in Indonesia.

During the course of the hearing in January 2016, US District Judge William Orrick III expressed that if US copyright law was intended to extend its protection to animals, it would have been stated plainly when legislated. The case was dismissed.

Two months later, PETA filed a notice of appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On July 12, 2017 the Court heard oral arguments on the matter in San Francisco. By the time the appeal was heard in San Francisco, Slater was reported to be unable to cover the ongoing legal expenses or attend the hearing.

G'day (pri)mate

It appears that in Australia, we saw this coming and pre-emptively worded our legislation more carefully. Under s 208 of the Copyright Act 1968, reference to the "author" of a photograph refers to a person who, at the time the photograph was taken, was the owner of the material on which the photograph was taken. Therefore, it is unlikely Naruto would be afforded any copyright protection and David Slater would hold exclusive ownership of the photographs.


*selfie /'s?lfi/ noun informal

"A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media". In case you didn't know.

Return To Top
Related blog posts
Media room