U.S. district Judge William Orrick has declared that the monkey who accidentally took the famous selfie you can see on this page cannot be declared the legal owner of the photograph.
Speaking in San Francisco, Orrick stated that whilst Congress and the president can extend the protection of law to animals as well as humans, there is no indication that this applies to the Copyright Act as well.
The issue had arisen because PETA had petitioned the government to divert all funds made from the selfie back to the monkey’s wellbeing after he was identified as six year old Naruto in Indonesia. After Orrick’s decision though, it doesn’t look like this will be happening any time soon.
The pictures were taken back in 2011 when British nature photographer David Slater visited Sulawesi. Slater argued that the British copyright obtained for the photos by his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd should be honoured worldwide, therefore entitling him to all of the profits.
Other organisations such as Wikipedia and outlets that distributed the photograph are also claiming that the monkey should own the copyright, ensuring that they won’t have to pay royalties for its use. Following Orrick’s ruling though, it seems like they will have to pay up – most likely to Slater – or take the image down.
In fairness, the United States Copyright Office has updated its compendium last year to reflect this and it hasn’t all come down to Orrick’s decision. The update clearly states that it would register copyrights only for works produced by human beings and not animals, be they a monkey taking a selfie or an elephant painting a mural. Spoilsports.