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.

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Comments on “Monkey Selfie Case Gets Even Weirder, As The Monkey's 'Next Friends' Are In A Criminal Dispute With Each Other”

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Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 macaques vs lawyers

It would be a fascinating case either way.

On the one hand, while pirates versus ninjas is a fairly deadlocked issue, ninjas versus lawyers remains to be explored.

On the other hand, if PETA can in fact sue in US courts on behalf of a monkey who has never set foot in any jurisdiction and despite the fact that the ‘property’ they are suing over does not exist and cannot exist under US laws…then it should also be possible to sue PETA for misrepresenting the wishes of all the monkeys that have never set foot in US jurisdiction.

Standing? What’s that?

TechDescartes (profile) says:

PETA: Silly Is What We Do

So PETA is in favor of photographers leaving cameras lying around to entice monkeys? How irresponsible.

By the way, PETA does not care if you think they are silly. In fact, they admit to seeking out coverage by being silly:

PETA’s aim is to stop animal suffering, and we use every available opportunity to reach people with our messages. Our gimmicks may sometimes seem silly, but they are vital if we are to reach the masses and initiate discussion, debate, questioning of the status quo, and, of course, action. The current situation is critical for billions of animals, and our goal is to make the public aware of the issues—even if it means wearing a funny costume, engaging in a public stunt, or taking our clothes off.

The fact is that in this tabloid era, the media usually do not consider the facts alone interesting enough to cover. Colorful and controversial gimmicks, however—such as jumping on stage at a fashion show to protest a designer’s promotion of fur—consistently grab headlines, bringing the animal rights message to audiences around the country and often the world.

Maybe, just maybe, we should stop giving them the headlines they crave.

OA (profile) says:

Re: PETA: Silly Is What We Do

I know little about PETA. Something about throwing red paint on people, I think, and some stunts in the nude. But,

Maybe, just maybe, we should stop giving them the headlines they crave.

Should they be artificially ignored? Are they devoid of any important or relevant message? That description of the Media’s appetites is accurate enough, isn’t it?

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: PETA: Silly Is What We Do

For some people it’s a matter of whether they’re helping or hindering the cause.

We’re talking about a group that blames autism on drinking milk. Plus cancer, Crohn’s disease and other problems.

A group that repeatedly attacks groups like the March of Dimes, the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and the American Cancer Society for conducting animal testing to find cures for birth defects and life-threatening diseases. They urged Yasser Arafat to spare animals in suicide bombings, with no concern for the humans who were being killed.

A group that put up a billboard in Boston comparing the suffering of cattle to that of Jews in Nazi Germany. That demeaned a large number of dead women, victims of a serial killer in British Columbia, by basing an anti-meat advertising campaign on them. They’ve done the same for other high-profile murders. They tried to put up a billboard in Santa Fe featuring a pig with the caption: "He Died for Your Sins."

I almost wonder if they’re a front for the beef, pork and chicken industries. A popular and respected animal rights movement would lead to higher and more expensive standards for raising farm animals. To prevent this, they create an organization with so much disgraceful publicity that the term "animal rights group" becomes synonymous with "a bunch of wingnuts." If PETA didn’t exist, the beef and pork industries would be smart to create an organization just like them.

AEIO_ (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 PETA: Silly Is What We Do

“They are basically what happens when Scientologists go full vegan crazy.”

STOP giving Scientologists a bad name by comparing them to PITA (Sorry, PETA. Freudian slip of the tongue there.) That’s their own cross to bear — as it were.

They’re BOTH horrible. Must we have competition and a winner for ultimate crappyness? I’d rather punch doggies with the cowboys or clear my mind sniffing Windex.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: PETA: Silly Is What We Do

Personally, it seems perfectly reasonable to keep giving them headlines; the more they sell themselves as ‘silly’, the more they are… silly. They might claim they’re otherwise, but what are you going to trust, their words or their actions?

I just tell everyone that PETA stands for Performance Entertainment Through Antics.

hij (profile) says:

We have seen this enough to be familiar with it!

This has come across the first page so often that we should be familiar enough with it to be on a first name basis. Can we simply refer to this as Naruto v. Slater now?

As an aside, I have been around macaques before, and they are obnoxious and vexatious monsters. It should not surprise anyone that they are also litigious little bastards as well.

darren squires says:

im with the monkey on this

I feel a little unloyal as a fellow photographer. But if I had to chose I”d side with the monkey. The law is absolutely clear that there is no merit in Slaters case. At least PETA are raising issues , of animal ethics and rights. Yes we have a situation where an overreaching artist displays less merit that a monkey who literally has no idea what is happening.

Anonymous Coward says:

You DO know that PETA doesn’t really exist as portrayed by the media?

They exist solely to drum up ‘controversy’.

For example they were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Nintendo to get ‘outraged’ when they released a game called cooking mama.

Mcdonalds pays them on a regular basis to stage fake “protests” whenever they have a new burger or other food release. Cheap publicity compared to buying newspaper/TV advertising.

They’ve campaigned against basically every major company in the US but got paid BY that company for doing it as cheap publicity.

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