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Monkey Can't Get Money From Selfies

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

It's hard to report this story with a straight face. I mean, even the monkey was smiling.

If you haven't seen them before, the pictures are definitely worth seeing. The macaque, who snapped his own selfies, has a great simian smile.

According to a federal judge, however, the animal doesn't have a copyright to the photos. It's not a joke, although more than a few lawyers say it is.

Animal Copyrights?

"Imagining a monkey as the copyright 'author' in Title 17 of the United States Code is a farcical journey Dr. Seuss might have written," attorney Andrew J. Dhuey wrote in his motion to dismiss the copyright case.

"This is an issue for Congress and the president," Judge William Orrick said in granting the motion. "If they think animals should have the right of copyright they're free, I think, under the Constitution, to do that."

If only Mark Twain were here to talk about the monkeys in Congress ...

The case now awaits a decision from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where attorneys for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals recently argued their right to sue on behalf of the plaintiff. They said the primate, Naruto, is being exploited.

Chuckling Judges

PETA sued in 2015, seeking a court order to administer any proceeds from the sale of the photos. Photographer David Slater was working in Sulawesi, Indonesia, when Naruto pressed the button on his camera and created the self-portraits. Slater later published a book with the selfies included.

At the appeals court hearing, crowds of law students and occasionally burst into laughter. Even the judges chuckled at times during the arguments.

Meanwhile, Slater said the legal battle has crushed him financially but the publicity from the selfies has helped save the macaque. The locals no longer kill or eat the "selfie monkey," he said.

"It has taken six years for my original intention to come true, which was to highlight the plight of the monkeys and bring it to the world," he said.

Now if that doesn't put a smile on your face ...

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