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Macaque monkey doesn’t own copyright to selfies, San Francisco judge rules

This 2011 photo provided by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) shows a selfie taken by a macaque monkey on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi with a camera that was positioned by British nature photographer David Slater. The photo is part of a court exhibit in a lawsuit filed by PETA in San Francisco on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015, which says that the monkey, and not Slater, should be declared the copyright owner of the photos. Slater has argued that, as the “intellect behind the photos,” he is the copyright owner since he set up the camera so that such a photo could be produced if a monkey approached it a pressed the button.

David Slater/Court exhibit provided by PETA via The Associated Press

A macaque monkey who took now-famous selfie photographs cannot be declared the copyright owner of the photos, a federal judge said Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick said in federal court in San Francisco that "while Congress and the president can extend the protection of law to animals as well as humans, there is no indication that they did so in the Copyright Act."

The lawsuit filed last year by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sought a court order allowing PETA to represent the monkey and let it to administer all proceeds from the photos for the benefit of the monkey, which it identified as 6-year-old Naruto, and other crested macaques living in a reserve on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

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The photos were taken during a 2011 trip to Sulawesi with an unattended camera owned by British nature photographer David Slater, who asked the court to dismiss the case. Slater says the British copyright obtained for the photos by his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd., should be honoured worldwide.

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

The photos have been widely distributed elsewhere by outlets, including Wikipedia, which contend that no one owns the copyright to the images because they were taken by an animal, not a person.

Slater described himself as a nature photographer who is deeply concerned about animal welfare in court documents and said it should up to the U.S. Congress and not a federal court to decide whether copyright law applies to non-human animals.

Jeff Kerr, general counsel for PETA, said the organization will continue fighting for the monkey's rights.

"Despite this setback, legal history was made today because we argued to a federal court why Naruto should be the owner of the copyright rather than been seen as a piece of property himself," Kerk said. "This case is also exposing the hypocrisy of those who exploit animals for their own gain."

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