Remember the dispute of copyright ownership over a selfie taken by a macaque in 2011? I wrote about it earlier this year when the owner of the camera that was used to take this shot sued Blurb, Inc., for unauthorized use of copyright.
Well, the monkey has apparently spoken. On Sept. 22, PETA filed a lawsuit against the owner of the camera and Blurb on behalf of the monkey, who PETA says wants to be known as Naruto, to have the monkey declared the owner of the copyright in the photograph.
As the previous post reports, the U.S. Copyright Office has stated that a photograph taken by a monkey (or any non-human) is unprotected intellectual property that may be used without permission. But that is just policy. U.S. law does not specifically state that a non-human cannot own a copyright. The Copyright Act only defines a “copyright owner … [as] the owner of that particular right” (see 17 USC Section 101). PETA argues that, because Naruto took the photo, she owns the copyright.
This suit faces challenges, but brings up a number of interesting legal issues. Can a non-human be declared the owner of property? If the monkey owns the copyright of the image, how does the monkey give permission for others to use it? Is it just monkeys (and how did PETA find Naruto)? What about elephants that paint artwork? Can non-humans infringe copyright?
Another interesting issue is the requirement that a copyright must be registered to bring a lawsuit in the U.S. (I imagine Naruto would have some difficulty submitting the registration application); however, Naruto took the picture in Indonesia. A foreign copyright owner is exempt from registering a copyright in the U.S. prior to bringing a suit; therefore, PETA/Naruto should be able to bring the suit without having a U.S. registered copyright.
There are other issues, such as whether California is the correct jurisdiction to bring the lawsuit and whether PETA is the best representative to argue for Naruto, which may prevent the question of whether a monkey can own copyright from ever being decided — but it might get interesting!