Back in September, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a goofy yet vicious copyright-infringement lawsuit against British nature photographer David Slater, claiming he had illegally sold copies of the delightful image that you see above this post. The now-famous monkey selfie was shot by a black-crested macaque that had stolen Slater's camera while he was on an expedition in Indonesia. According to most legal experts, the image belongs in the public domain, because the U.S. government doesn't grant copyrights for artwork created by animals. But PETA claimed otherwise. The picture, it says, is property of the macaque, whose name is Naruto. And Slater owes Naruto some money.
As I've explained, this is an absurd argument, and it's arguably abusive for a large organization like PETA to drag a random photographer into court over such a silly claim. But at the very least, it has generated a funny piece of legal writing. This month, Slater's lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the suit. It begins thusly:
I realize this is only chuckle-level humor. But "monkey see, monkey sue," is the sort of line lawyers spend years dreaming they will one day get to write in a federal court document. The gist of the motion, meanwhile, is pretty simple: Under 9th Circuit precedent, animals (represented by human lawyers, of course) only have standing to sue when Congress explicitly says they do. Copyright laws don't mention any right of action for monkeys. Therefore, this case is for the birds.