Judge In Nutty PETA Monkey Copyright Trial Skeptical Of PETA's Argument, But Let's Them Try Again

from the monkey-business dept

As you know, we've been covering PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)'s absolutely insane lawsuit claiming to represent the monkey who took this selfie:
We'd been covering the story of that selfie for years, since first noting that it was almost certainly in the public domain, as copyright law only recognizes human authors. This discussion spurred not one, but two, separate legal threats made against us by representatives of David Slater, the guy whose camera the monkey used. It's also gotten Wikipedia involved (after Slater asked the site to not allow the image to be used, while Wikipedia agreed with us that the image is public domain).

However, the case took a turn towards the absolutely surreal when PETA stepped in, claimed that it represented the monkey (which it decided is named "Naruto") and that the monkey did, in fact, hold the copyright. It also sued Slater, who despite saying mean things about us in particular, we side with in this case in at least saying that PETA has zero claim, and it's ridiculous that they've dragged Slater into court. Since then, the legal arguments have been increasingly surreal.

Yesterday in San Francisco, Judge William Orrick, held a hearing over the request by Slater (and his publishing partner Blurb, who is a co-defendant) to dismiss the case entirely, because it's about a freaking monkey copyright. The judge, apparently, was somewhat amused by the whole situation, but did not appear even remotely sympathetic to PETA's arguments (for which, I should remind you, the organization is using a very well-known IP law firm, Irell & Manella). Judge Orrick didn't dismiss the case outright, but rather gave PETA a chance to amend the suit after noting some issues with it as it stands. PETA now has to decide if it's even worth it to submit a new complaint, recognizing that the judge may not be particularly open to their whole "animals can get copyright" arguments.

Reporter Sarah Jeong, who attended the hearing, noted some of the more insane arguments from PETA's lawyers (again, from a big, well-recognized law firm), including the idea that "if there's an author, it follows that there must be a copyright" (that's flat out false), and if there's "value" in the image, that also means there must be a copyright. Wrong wrong wrong wrong. And thankfully, the judge appears to recognize that. Oh, and how can I forget the argument that this is just like how slaves couldn't own patents before the 14th Amendment. Except this case is nothing like that (at all).

Anyway, the case isn't over yet. PETA might decide to walk away, but since this is all just a giant publicity stunt for PETA (don't worry, we didn't forget that!), that seems unlikely. It's likely that they'll try again and get laughed out of court.

Filed Under: copyright, david slater, monkey selfie, naruto, peta, public domain
Companies: blurb, peta


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 Jan 2016 @ 9:59am

    TIL Federal Judges don't have time to go to comedy clubs so they invite them to court.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2016 @ 10:00am

    If the monkey is smart enough to own its own copyright, then it's smart enough to hire its own lawyers and doesn't need anyone butting in on its behalf. Otherwise it's in the public domain.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 7 Jan 2016 @ 10:01am

    This case can be expected to drag on for some time

    Judge William Orrick . . . somewhat amused by the whole situation, but did not appear even remotely sympathetic to PETA's arguments . . . didn't dismiss the case outright, but rather gave PETA a chance to amend the suit
    That's because he's hoping for more amusement. If he brings this case to a quick end, he'll just be back to presiding over boring cases.
    Reporter Sarah Jeong, who attended the hearing, noted some of the more insane arguments from PETA's lawyers (again, from a big, well-recognized law firm) . . .
    I rest my case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 7 Jan 2016 @ 10:09am

      Re: This case can be expected to drag on for some time

      Perhaps he knows that there's no way this will end well for them, but giving PETA the chance to waste more money on high-end lawyers. Partly as a favor to the lawyers, partly to punish PETA for being so blatantly stupid.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 7 Jan 2016 @ 10:02am

    There was a time, long ago, when PETA had some sanity....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    RD, 7 Jan 2016 @ 10:11am

    This is how Planet of the Apes got started.

    This is how Planet of the Apes got started. First the Apes demanded they be given copyrights, then that led to them forming trade groups representing the rights of ape creators which led to the Great Uprising where Apes were given a seat at the government table and next thing you know they are subjugation all humans. All because of copyright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2016 @ 10:29am

      Re: This is how Planet of the Apes got started.

      I feel like an opportunity was missed by not saying "Great Ape-rising"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    UniKyrn, 7 Jan 2016 @ 10:11am

    Well, we let children inherit the copyright of their parents, so who in PETA wants to claim the monkey is their parent? :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 7 Jan 2016 @ 10:15am

      Re:

      I'm sure someone in PETA will be a monkey's uncle before this is all through...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2016 @ 10:28am

        Re: Re:

        ...we let children inherit the copyright of their parents, so who in PETA wants to claim the monkey is their parent...

        ...I'm sure someone in PETA will be a monkey's uncle before this is all through...


        Start to worry if they apply for a guardianship.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Joe, 7 Jan 2016 @ 10:38am

    AI

    I think the interesting thing that may come of this case is this - if we expand copyright to other mammals, what about content created by artificial intelligence? There are a number of content generating bots out there now and they will get better over time. If we give copyright to monkeys - why not bots?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 7 Jan 2016 @ 3:22pm

      Re: AI

      ... if we expand copyright to other mammals, what about content created by artificial intelligence?

      I believe that gets into work-for-hire land which copyright already covers. If you're a wage-slave/employee and you do something on your own time that turns out to be valuable, your employer owns it. Should'a been a contractor instead (and read that contract carefully).

      Can't have those slaves earning enough to buy their freedom now, can we, especially when we're being dinged mercilessly for their benefit package?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rob Steinmetz, 7 Jan 2016 @ 11:02am

    How do they know PETA is representing the monkey? Doesn't the monkey get to select his own lawyer?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 7 Jan 2016 @ 3:29pm

      Re:

      Doesn't the monkey get to select his own lawyer?

      I very much doubt the monkey even knows any of this is happening, much less what a lawyer is or why it'd need or want one. As the article says, this's all just PETA PR grandstanding, pretty much all they ever do or have ever done. The monkey's never going to get anything out of it, much like any class action suit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2016 @ 11:20am

    you bring up a good point..

    who named the monkey?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bees!, 7 Jan 2016 @ 11:39am

    I've said it once, I'll say it again...

    The case is on its face frivolous. Counsel should have been sanctioned under the inherent power of the court or Rule 11 for filing such idiocy and wasting court resources (not to mention the Defendants' money).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wereisjessicahyde (profile), 7 Jan 2016 @ 12:06pm

    You need this in your life.

    "Freaking monkey copyright" needs to be a meme. Come on you know it makes sense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    r_rolo1 (profile), 7 Jan 2016 @ 3:12pm

    Well, better read it now ...

    If this trainwreck continues, PETA will soon request it's "right to be forgotten" on this :D

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2016 @ 3:21pm

    Its easy to scoff at a lawsuit like this, copyright itself is becoming an increasing joke, but it does raise some ethical questions about our relationship with other form's of life. You could easily say that a monkey has no understanding of copyright, thus has no rights. But what about human children? They have no understanding of copyright either, but still clearly have copyrights (or their parents dictate those rights on their behalf). The same mentality was given to native american's during the colonial era, they had no understanding of european "rights" and were promptly and throughly exploited and treated as sub-human.

    There's a pervading sense of callous exploitation going on right now with regards to the wholesale devastation of ecosystem's, genetic manipulation, and "ownership" of form's of life wherein they have no rights to even their own bodies, which, while you can debate the necessities of farming practices, agriculture, research, and development, is troubling on many different level's. Animals aren't stupid, Crows for example have their own culture and customs, have a language with over 250 different "words" in two different dialects, teach their young, craft tools, and mourn their dead. Oh but their just crows. Fuck em.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2016 @ 5:05pm

    The photo shows why copyright law is unnecessary

    Ok, a few assumptions:

    1) The monkey had no knowledge of copyright law
    2) The picture is a creation worthy of protection and adds to all the stuff copyright is supposed to encourage

    Therefore copyright DID NOT provide incentives for the creation. Which means that in this case, copyright was irrelevant and society has no benefit for granting a monopoly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Blaise Alleyne (profile), 7 Jan 2016 @ 6:51pm

    Copyright serves no non-human purpose

    First, this is one of my favourite pictures in life. Period. Whenever I hear the word "selfie," I just see that monkey.

    On the substance though... look, I'm way more sympathetic to PETA as an organization and even the idea of non-human animal personhood these days. I've gone through a huge conversion on animal issues. I'm honestly unsure if some non-human animals should actually be considered persons (depends what we mean by person...).

    But, grant that for the sake of argument -- this lawsuit still makes absolutely no sense.

    Let's recognize that legal personhood has a nasty history of being used to exclude humans and deny them legal rights, and let's admit for the sake of argument this is true at times for non-human animals.

    What possible purpose could copyright ever serve a monkey?

    Copyright is about providing an incentive to create. Does anyone, even anyone at PETA, seriously believe that monkeys wouldn't take selfies without copyright? (I never thought I would have to ask that question...)

    Even if monkeys are persons... copyright is about humans. This is about human technology, human laws, and more importantly, about an incentive for humans to create. What possible use could any animal have for human laws about... well... imaginary property?

    Even if you believe monkeys need an incentive to create, it wouldn't be through human copyright. I'd suggest a banana...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 8 Jan 2016 @ 5:44am

      Re: Copyright serves no non-human purpose

      Apparently you haven't been to social media, where animals post selfies all the time. This distinct gentleman (Naruto, was it?) seems to be the 'human' exception.

      (I loved following your argument by the way!)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 8 Jan 2016 @ 11:20am

    I can agree with a few of the comments here on one single basis: in general, not knowing the law doesn't mean you don't benefit from it. (Or can't be condemned based on it.)

    However, granting "human rights" (including copyrights) to animals is a step I wouldn't make, for several reasons.

    The very first one, which is the core of the other reasons, is that "the Law" is a whole. If animals are to benefit from it, they should comply to the whole. If they "want" copyrights (or if anyone wants copyrights to apply to them), we'll have to start suing animals for murder, theft, etc. (Heck, in that situation the monkey could have been sued if he broke or stole the camera. Would that also make sense?) Not to mention taxes. (Unless we make specific tax exemption rules for "animal persons".
    At the same time, we'll have to stop slaughtering them for food or experimentations. (And I doubt all PETA members are vegan.)
    I can understand the concept of "animal cruelty" being a crime (I even subscribe to it), but even this concept does NOT consider the animal as a "person".

    Second, we'll have to decide where to draw the line, if any. If apes and/or monkeys are ok to consider as "persons", what about other animals? Dolphins? Dogs and cats? Rats? Elephants? What about insects? Spiders? Plants even? (They might not be mobile, but they are definitely living organisms.)

    I'll finish with a third point (we could discuss it for hours otherwise): even assuming "animal as persons" in law, how would we apply this in practice?
    For domestic animals, I can imagine the base idea.
    Wild animals are a whole other matter: they don't recognize borders, so which national law would apply? The one they happen to be in at the time they are "caught" for a "crime" or "victimized" or "create a copyright work"? Or would they be given an arbitrary "citizenship"? How about legal representation? Is it "first come, first served" for any lawyer/organisation who wants the case? Would they get "public defenders" in case nobody shows up to its defense?

    Some people mentioned that children have rights despite not fully understanding the law, but that's mostly on the assumption that they'll grow up into understanding it and accept it. Even so, they only benefit limited rights as they don't have full personal autonomy and responsibility. (Although that is also quite a broken assumption given that the average adult barely understand enough to avoid most legal problems...)
    Animals can't be assumed to eventually understand and complying with the law.

    So, simply put, this makes no sense until animals prove they can integrate to human society as full "persons". If that happens, we'll amend the law to include whatever animal reached that point into the legal definition of a "person".

    For now, let's just stop this farce, and have the judge laugh this case out of court. Please.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    The Original Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Jan 2016 @ 9:40pm

    PETA

    And all these years I thought that PETA stood for People Eating Tasty Animals...

    Boy, was I wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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