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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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 10:48am

    I'd argue that Naruto is the most intelligent and sane part of this whole story.

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

    • identicon
      Machin Shin, 9 Jun 2017 @ 12:15pm

      Re:

      Sad but true statement.

      I think Naruto had a better understanding of that camera and how to use it than all these idiots understanding out our legal system and how to use it properly.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2017 @ 12:35pm

        Re: Re:

        To be fair, one of those is vastly more complex.

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

        • icon
          TechDescartes (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 12:40pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          And the other requires a law degree.

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

          • identicon
            SpaceLifeForm, 9 Jun 2017 @ 1:16pm

            macaques vs lawyers

            LOL.

            Unfortunately, those with the degree outnumber the macaques.

            And the group with the smaller collective intelligence is only in it for the money.

            Isn't it time for Naruto to file a class action against PETA?

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

            • icon
              Roger Strong (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 1:46pm

              Re: macaques vs lawyers

              Not just PETA. Naruto is probably watching all of us being nice to cats and dogs. And thinking, "Damn... They've forgotten where they came from."

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

            • icon
              Mike Brown (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 7:48pm

              Re: macaques vs lawyers

              "Isn't it time for Naruto to file a class action against PETA?"

              Are you talking about the monkey, or the cast of the cartoon?

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

              • icon
                Bergman (profile), 10 Jun 2017 @ 12:32am

                Re: Re: 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?

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

                • icon
                  Bamboo Harvester (profile), 10 Jun 2017 @ 5:19am

                  Re: Re: Re: macaques vs lawyers

                  I suspect it's not that silly. The law firm representing PETA has managed to get this back into court on appeal.

                  They're looking for a decision on something hidden in the fine print to set Precedent in Case Law, which they'll use on another (money-making) suit.

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

    • identicon
      David, 9 Jun 2017 @ 10:50pm

      Re:

      I'd argue that Naruto is the most intelligent and sane part of this whole story.

      At least it is not his fault it has gone apeshit insane.

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

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 11:23am

    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.

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

    • icon
      OA (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 12:27pm

      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?

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

      • icon
        Roger Strong (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 1:12pm

        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.

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

        • icon
          discordian_eris (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 3:30pm

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

          PETA is more akin to a cult than an activist organization. They are basically what happens when Scientologists go full vegan crazy.

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

          • icon
            AEIO_ (profile), 10 Jun 2017 @ 12:39am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

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

            • icon
              discordian_eris (profile), 10 Jun 2017 @ 12:45am

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

              When PETA slaughters animals at its NY 'no-kill' shelter (1000s/year) they tend to mumble something about Xenu and engrams. Most serial killers start off with animals before graduating to homo saps.

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

          • icon
            frank87 (profile), 10 Jun 2017 @ 6:48am

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

            I think Engelhardt found out the hard way:
            "Don't mess with crazy." It is bad for your mental health.

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

        • icon
          DB (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 10:42pm

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

          PETA has pretty extreme views about beekeeping as well.

          https://www.peta.org/about-peta/faq/whats-wrong-with-eating-honey/

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2017 @ 3:06am

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

          Crohns has recently been linked (by science) to a particular microorganism in cow's milk. Just an fyi.

          Now, it's Saturday morning, and time for bacon.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2017 @ 12:41pm

      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.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2017 @ 12:06pm

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

    Are you suggesting that sites such as Techdirt should forego the revenue that such click-bait stories generate?

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

    • icon
      TechDescartes (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 12:38pm

      Re: Anonymous Coward Posts Comment; What Happens Next is Amazing

      Nice try. The title of this comment is "click bait". The title of this post is not. There's a difference.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 12:51pm

      Re:

      What's 'click-bait' about a story regarding bogus copyright claims, threats resulting from bogus copyright claims, and court battles involving bogus copyright claims? That all seems very relevant for a site that covers copyright issues(among others).

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

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 12:53pm

    Reporter: Naruto is sueing Denuvo.

    Gamer: Go away.

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

  • icon
    hij (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 1:12pm

    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.

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

  • icon
    NumberLord (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 1:20pm

    Wow.

    This is easily the worst of the Planet of the Apes sequels.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 4:03pm

    All of the injustices in the world.
    All of the horrors in the world.
    All of the suffering in the world.

    These fucking idiots decide to champion a pointless case.
    PETA should run for Congress.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2017 @ 5:44pm

    And all of this because some idiots wanted copyright law to be enforced in the stupidest way possible.

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

    • identicon
      David, 9 Jun 2017 @ 10:54pm

      Re:

      No, for the stupidest inapplicable case.

      Copyrighting the perfect turd would likely be less of a challenge if excreted by an artist.

      I mean, the whole case here is a piece of performance art when seen in context, in fluxus (is that the right Beuyss terminology?).

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

  • icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 7:32pm

    lol

    Man, this case is more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

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

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 9 Jun 2017 @ 8:57pm

    so when does the shit throwing start?

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

  • identicon
    darren squires, 10 Jun 2017 @ 12:28am

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2017 @ 11:24am

    Naruto is so sad.

    Naruto is so dang sad and emotionally distressed by all this, his/her two champions are fighting with each other. I really think that Naruto has grounds to sue for emotional distress.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2017 @ 1:32am

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2017 @ 1:33am

    Forgot to mention that when celebrities 'endorse' PETA they're doing it also because they're being paid in cold hard cash.

    A celebrity campaigning against a games console drums up way more page views than just PETA alone.....

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


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