We Interrupt The News Again With Hopefully The Last Update From The Monkey Selfie Case

from the with-next-friends-like-these dept

And now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for: a decision from the Ninth Circuit in the Monkey Selfie case.

Upshot: the case remains dismissed, and the defendants get to recover attorney fees for the appeal. There’s also relatively little to say on the copyright front. This case has turned almost entirely into litigation about standing and proven to be a significant wrench in the works for any future litigation anyone, but PETA in particular, might want to bring on behalf of animals.

First, the court skewers PETA over the quality of its “friendship” with Naruto, casting significant side-eye towards PETA’s apparent settlement of the lawsuit, which led to its attempt to dismiss the appeal, while at the same time leaving some question as to whether Naruto himself was down with this settlement and plan to dismiss his appeal. From footnote 3:

We feel compelled to note that PETA?s deficiencies in this regard go far beyond its failure to plead a significant relationship with Naruto. Indeed, if any such relationship exists, PETA appears to have failed to live up to the title of ?friend.? After seeing the proverbial writing on the wall at oral argument, PETA and Appellees filed a motion asking this court to dismiss Naruto?s appeal and to vacate the district court?s adverse judgment, representing that PETA?s claims against Slater had been settled. It remains unclear what claims PETA purported to be ?settling,? since the court was under the impression this lawsuit was about Naruto?s claims, and per PETA?s motion, Naruto was ?not a party to the settlement,? nor were Naruto?s claims settled therein. Nevertheless, PETA apparently obtained something fromthe settlement with Slater, although not anything that would necessarily go to Naruto: As ?part of the arrangement,? Slater agreed to pay a quarter of his earnings from the monkey selfie book ?to charities that protect the habitat of Naruto and other crested macaques in Indonesia.? See Settlement Reached: ?Monkey Selfie? Case Broke New GroundForAnimal Rights, PETA, https://www.peta.org/blog/settlementreached-monkey- selfie-case-broke-new-ground-animal-rights/ (last visited Apr. 5, 2018). But now, in the wake of PETA?s proposed dismissal, Naruto is left without an advocate, his supposed ?friend? having abandoned Naruto?s substantive claims in what appears to be an effort to prevent the publication of a decision adverse to PETA?s institutional interests. Were he capable of recognizing this abandonment, we wonder whether Naruto might initiate an action for breach of confidential relationship against his (former) next friend, PETA, for its failure to pursue his interests before its own. Puzzlingly, while representing to the world that ?animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way,? see PETA, https://peta.org (last visited Apr. 5, 2018), PETA seems to employ Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals. Yet this is precisely what is to be avoided by requiring next friends to have a significant relationship with, rather than an institutional interest in, the incompetent party?a point made by ChiefJustice Rehnquist in Lenhard v. Wolff, 443 U.S. 1306, 1312 (1979). See infra page 9 for exact language.

But repudiating PETA’s “next friend” standing doesn’t end the inquiry. There is a 2004 case from the Ninth Circuit, Cetacean Community v. Bush, which established the precedent that animals might be able to sue for themselves, even without a “next friend” to do the suing for them. The court decides it has to defer to that precedent, although so reluctantly as to undermine its persuasive effect in future cases.

Reaching that conclusion didn’t end the inquiry, however. Cetacean Community means that animals might be theoretically able to sue for themselves in the Ninth Circuit, but it doesn’t mean they will necessarily have a viable claim. To figure out whether they do, we have to look at the applicable statute, which in this case is the Copyright Act. And here the court concludes that Naruto, being a monkey, has no standing to sue for copyright infringement.

Several provisions of the Copyright Act also persuade us against the conclusion that animals have statutory standing to sue under the Copyright Act. See Davis v. Mich. Dep?t of Treasury, 489 U.S. 803, 809 (1989) (?It is a fundamental canon of statutory construction that the words of a statute must be read in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme.?). For example, the ?children? of an ?author,? ?whether legitimate or not,? can inherit certain rights under the Copyright Act. See 17 U.S.C. ?? 101, 201, 203, 304. Also, an author?s ?widow or widower owns the author?s entire termination interest unless there are any surviving children or grandchildren of the author, in which case the widow or widower owns one-half of the author?s interest.? Id. ? 203(a)(2)(A). The terms ?children,? ?grandchildren,? ?legitimate,? ?widow,? and ?widower? all imply humanity and necessarily exclude animals that do not marry and do not have heirs entitled to property by law. Based on this court?s decision in Cetacean and the text of the Copyright Act as a whole, the district court did not err in concluding that Naruto?and, more broadly, animals other than humans?lack statutory standing to sue under the Copyright Act.

So there you go. Our long national nightmare of not knowing whether any random monkey might be able to sue for copyright infringement has been resolved. We may now go about our lives confident in the knowledge that they cannot, at least not in the Ninth Circuit.

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Comments on “We Interrupt The News Again With Hopefully The Last Update From The Monkey Selfie Case”

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45 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Animals and corporations are not persons, have no standing.

This whole train of idiocy is the result of modern lawyers idiotically pursuing “logic” based on wrong premises, having lost entire sight of Common Law and Common Sense.

At least Supreme Court is still sane. How much longer that’ll last is the question.

[I welcome comments asserting that corporations ARE persons: you’ll not help yourself if do! That’s a useful similarity for some purposes, but it’s NOT Constitutionally based any more than for monkeys.]

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Animals and corporations are not persons, have no standing.

I welcome comments asserting that corporations ARE persons: you’ll not help yourself if do! That’s a useful similarity for some purposes, but it’s NOT Constitutionally based any more than for monkeys.

OK, I’ll bite…

Wikipedia: Corporate personhood: In the United States

As a matter of interpretation of the word "person" in the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S. courts have extended certain constitutional protections to corporations. The basis for allowing corporations to assert such protections under the U.S. Constitution is that they are organizations of people, and the people should not be deprived of their constitutional rights when they act collectively….

That One Guy (profile) says:

Fair-weather 'friends' indeed

But now, in the wake of PETA’s proposed dismissal, Naruto is left without an advocate, his supposed “friend” having abandoned Naruto’s substantive claims in what appears to be an effort to prevent the publication of a decision adverse to PETA’s institutional interests.

Why, with actions like that you’d almost think that PETA, ‘think of the monkey!’, friend of animals world-wide and enemy of those that exploit them were themselves simply using Naruto for their own ends. Happy enough to claim ‘friendship’, and thereby standing, only so long as it benefited them, and yet willing to completely ditch any connection with Naruto the second it became personally inconvenient for them.

Their actions in this case would seem to argue that PETA is less against exploitation of animals in general, and more against exploitation of animals when it’s being done by someone that isn’t PETA.

Anonymous Coward says:

>Their actions in this case would seem to argue that PETA is less against exploitation of animals in general, and more against exploitation of animals when it’s being done by someone that isn’t PETA.

That isn’t really fair. PETA is against exploitation of animals that harms their LIFE and LIBERTY. PETA was only exploiting the animals’ PROPERTY RIGHTS. Presumably, PETA would support say, animal marriage–without feeling obligated to reserve a certain number of seats on the New York Stock Exchange for hyenas.[*]

[*]Assuming, of course, they aren’t already over-represented.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes; the argument would hold more water if it were a case of PETA refusing to bother with the obvious exploitation of an animal for intellectual property rights.

But in this case, they attempted to convert a complaint on behalf of an animal into “personal” benefit (assuming a non-profit has more personhood than an animal).

cpt kangarooski says:

Re: You mean the complete works of Shakespeare?

Nope! This is the corollary of the independent creation rule. If you independently create a work that happens to be a preexisting public domain work, and you did not copy in order to do it, it is copyrigtable. Of course, everyone’s just going to copy the public domain version, so there’s no point, but you would have a copyright and could have an infringement suit to bring if you were lucky.

Wyrm (profile) says:

The terms “children,” “grandchildren,” “legitimate,” “widow,” and “widower” all imply humanity and necessarily exclude animals that do not marry and do not have heirs entitled to property by law.

Although I do agree that the Copyright Act only covers human works, this specific argument feels wrong on many levels.

First, does that mean single humans who never marry nor have children cannot benefit from copyright?

Second, even if they don’t marry, animals do have children and grandchildren, whether they acknowledge that relationship or not.

The point should be made based on the fundamental of copyright, not on nit-picking a few words in its implementation.

Stan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

(For example, the “children” of an “author,” “whether legitimate or not,” can inherit certain rights under the Copyright Act.)

Dateline Indonesia, 2021: Naruto, the famous monkey -selfie-photographer died sometime over the weekend apparently at the claws of a large Javan hawk-eagle.

PETA has announced that they legally represent the children of Naruto and intend to pursue royalty fees from the photograph on behalf of Naruto’s children. It is noted that Naruto passed away Intestate.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

If Animals Have Rights ...

… then mustn’t they also accept responsibilities?

In human society, mature individuals have both responsibilities as well as rights. The only ones who get rights without corresponding levels of responsibilities are the children, and those with intellectual disabilities.

Anonymous Coward says:

>Although I do agree that the Copyright Act only covers human works, this specific argument feels wrong on many levels.

This is really the way legal interpretation works. If “rhesus monkey” were included in the definition of “person”, then how do we determine which of its children were “legitimate”? More silly lawsuits, with PETA befriending Jojo and SPCA befriending Juju and Gigi who, though younger, have no criminal record? You cannot interpret one part of a statute in such a way that other parts become nonsense.

Corporations pose no problem here, of course, because the children, widows, etc., are relationships defined with reference to specific person in the corporation, not the whole group of people who formed/comprise the corp. (But a marriage license is a kind of incorporation anyway…)

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