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.