Monday, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that an ape satisfied the criteria for standing to file a lawsuit under the Constitution. And yes, it was a real ape, not the kind of hairy, smelly human you might expect to prevail in court in San Francisco.
The case involved a photographer who dropped his camera in a nature reserve in Indonesia. A crested macaque named Naruto picked it up and inadvertently snapped some “selfies” with it. The photographer recovered it and sold the photos, which proved popular and lucrative. Enter People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the animal rights group, which sued on behalf of Naruto, claiming that the copyright to the photos belonged to the ape.
Fortunately, this isn’t the usual example of liberal judges gone ape that we’re used to. The Court ruled that the ape had Constitutional standing to sue because it suffered a tangible injury directly related to the photographer’s actions. But the panel still dismissed the lawsuit because the Copyright Act does not specifically authorize animals to file infringement lawsuits, so apes don’t have statutory standing to sue. And until apes start making campaign contributions, I doubt that they ever will.
The story is worth reading for the panels’ smackdown of PETA’s ulterior motives. PETA actually reached a settlement with the photographer for a quarter of future profits to go to animal protection charities, but the Court decided to rule on it anyway, to help clarify the law on animals’ legal rights. The judges noted that PETA says it stands for the idea that “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.” Yet, while claiming to be Naruda’s friend and legal representative, they took it upon themselves to accept a settlement and drop the lawsuit. They noted that if Naruda understood his legal rights, he might sue his “friend” PETA for abandoning him and failing to pursue his interests in favor of its own.
Which begs the question: Aren’t there any lawyers out there who’d like to take that case on contingency?
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