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No Monkeying Around: Court Weighs if Animal Owns Its Selfies 

If successful, it will be the first time that an animal is declared the owner of property

Self-portrait of Naruto, a female Celebes crested macaque in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, who had picked up photographer David Slater's camera and photographed herself with it, photo: Wikimedia
2 weeks ago

SAN FRANCISCO – A curious monkey with a toothy grin and a knack for pressing a camera button is back in the spotlight as a federal appeals court weighs Wednesday whether an animal can hold a copyright to photo selfies.

Naruto is a free-living crested macaque who snapped the pictures with an unattended camera in Sulawesi, Indonesia, in 2011. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said Naruto was accustomed to cameras and took the selfies when he saw himself in the reflection of the lens.

The animal rights organization sought a court order in 2015 allowing it to administer all proceeds from the photos to benefit the monkey. British nature photographer David Slater, whose camera the monkey used, says the British copyright for the photos obtained by his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd., should be honored worldwide.

If successful, it will be the first time that an animal is declared the owner of property, instead of being declared a piece of property, PETA attorney Jeffrey Kerr said.

“When science and technology advance, the law adapts,” Kerr said. “There is nothing in the Copyright Act limiting ownership based on species, and PETA is asking for an interpretation of the act that acknowledges today’s scientific consensus that macaque monkeys can create an original work.”

The organization says the monkey made different facial expressions while pressing the shutter release.

PETA sued Slater and his San Francisco-based self-publishing company Blurb, which published a book called “Wildlife Personalities” that includes the monkey selfies.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is hearing arguments after a federal judge ruled against the monkey last year, saying there was no indication that Congress intended to extend copyright protection to animals.

The 9th Circuit proceedings will be broadcast online.

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