Monkey Selfie Case Gets Even Weirder, As The Monkey's 'Next Friends' Are In A Criminal Dispute With Each Other
from the monkey-business dept
If you thought the monkey selfie lawsuit couldn’t get any weirder, well, you underestimated the monkey selfie case. If you don’t remember, the details of this case go back a few years to when a photographer named David Slater got some press attention by claiming that a macaque monkey in Indonesia had come up to his camera, that was on the ground, and taken some selfies. As we explained ages ago, there is no copyright in such photos, because the copyright law in the US, in the UK (where Slater is from) and in Indonesia (where the monkey is) makes it clear that copyright is only available for human creations. Slater has long disagreed about this (and we’ve received some threats here and there, and he’s trashed us personally for claiming the lack of copyright in those images). But… the lawsuit here was a bizarre twist on that. Slater wasn’t suing anyone… instead, PETA, the group known more for its stupid publicity stunts than anything it’s actually done to help animals, decided to sue Slater. PETA argued that it should hold the (non-existant) copyright on behalf of the monkey. Just because. And, on this, we agree with Slater that this is insane and an abuse of the legal system.
PETA is represented by a big time law firm (Irell & Manella) that apparently doesn’t mind looking extraordinarily foolish for claiming that some totally unrelated third party could hold a copyright in a photograph for which no copyright can exist. Even worse, the lawyer from Irell & Manella — again, a big time, well-regarded firm on copyright issues — actually argued that there has to be a copyright in the image, apparently ignoring that things can be in the public domain. To make its case seem marginally stronger, PETA initially teamed up with a primatologist with a history of studying macaques, named Antje Engelhardt. This is how we found out that the macaque in question is supposedly named Naruto (though there had been some dispute about the sex of the macaque). Either way, the judge quickly and correctly pointed out that monkeys can’t get a copyright and thus PETA and Engelhardt have no case at all (leaving aside the separate question of why they should get to grab the copyright should it actually exist… which, again, it does not).
PETA, never one to let a good stupid publicity stunt go to waste, then appealed and put forth more nonsense about how macaques are, like, super smart, which has nothing to do with whether or not it can hold a copyright (it can’t).
But… things are getting even more bizarre. A year ago, soon after the appeals process began, Engelhardt dropped out of the case with no explanation. There was just a filing saying that “Dr. Englehardt will not continue as a next friend to appellant in this proceeding,” leaving PETA alone as the supposed “Next Friend” of Naruto. But that seems tough to justify since in the original case, PETA leaned heavily on Engelhardt’s experience to justify it’s possible standing as a “next friend” of Naruto:
Since 2006, Dr. Engelhardt has served as the co-head of one of the foremost scientific projects studying the ecology, reproductive biology, and social systems of Sulawesi crested macaques in their natural habitat and promoting their conservation and protection. She is one of the world?s foremost experts on the Macaca nigra species.
Dr. Engelhardt and those with whom she works have known, monitored, and studied Naruto since his birth. Naruto and his matrilineal family are an integral part of the crested macaque population Dr. Engelhardt studies. She has the scientific and professional expertise, and commitment to consult and cooperate with PETA on behalf of Naruto, so that the proceeds from the administration of Naruto?s copyright in the Monkey Selfies are used for the protection of Naruto, his community and their habitat.
Seems kind of key to have Engelhardt involved. But, even without her, the case has continued to move forward and is set for oral arguments next month. But, last week, Slater’s lawyers noted that the relationship between PETA and Engelhardt may be relevant, because Engelhardt is now facing criminal charges in New Jersey for harassing PETA’s General Counsel (who’s name is also a part of the case) and for trespassing on his property. From the complaint:
If you can’t see that, the relevant portion reads:
… the named defendant… did… enter into [REDACTED] of Jeffery Kerr, a place to which notice against trespass was given by actual communication to the defendant knowing that she/he was not licensed or privileged to do so, specifically by ringing the doorbell of the residence, the owner telling subject to leave the residence, and the subject walked into the backyard of the residence.
[…] with purpose to harass another, make or cause to be made a communication or communications in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm, specifically by sending an text message stating that she was gonna stop by the victim’s resident at a known time and date.
Now, admittedly the complaint’s wording is a bit weird (yes, it literally says “gonna stop by”), and we might question the Constitutionality of a law that says you can’t “cause annoyance” to someone, it certainly would appear that Engelhardt and PETA… are not thrilled with one another, and Engelhardt is now facing criminal charges because of it. As Slater’s lawyers note:
Regardless of the merits or outcome of the criminal case against Dr. Engelhardt, its very existence is a relevant consideration on whether PETA can adequately represent the interests of Naruto, notwithstanding the documented animosity that has developed between PETA and Dr. Engelhardt.
And, thus, this already extraordinarily bizarre case gets that much more bizarre.