It's been the better part of a decade since Naruto, a Celebes crested macaque living on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, snapped a photo of himself using wildlife photographer's David Slater camera, setting in motion the so-called "Monkey Selfie" legal saga.
PETA sought to drop the case entirely, but a U.S. appeals court made the unusual move of stepping in anyway and issuing a ruling that criticized the group for dropping the case despite having presented itself as the monkey's "next friend", a legal status normally used in court on behalf people unable to represent themselves.
"The Copyright Act does not expressly authorize animals to file copyright infringement suits under the statute", Judge Carlos T. Bea wrote in the three-judge panel's opinion. However, the Ninth Circuit denied the ensuing petition to dismiss the appeals case, setting the stage for yesterday's ruling.
We feel compelled to note that PETA's deficiencies in this regard go far beyond its failure to plead a significant relationship with Naruto. While a settlement might sound like a good thing when it comes to lawsuits, Judge Smith believes PETA settled before the Court of Appeals could hand down its verdict to protect itself from a "possible negative, precedential ruling".
In 2016, a federal judge ruled that the macaque monkey can not be declared the copyright owner of the photos.
It wasn't immediately clear how or if Monday's ruling would affect the settlement.
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During oral arguments in the case, the ninth circuit judges focused on the withdrawal from the case of Naruto's "next friend", Dr Antje Engelhardt, who was said to have had a "significant relationship" with Naruto. He said the move led him to believe PETA's "real motivation in this case was to advance its own interests, not Naruto's".
The judges involved in the case concluded that "next friends" can not represent animals and the lawsuit was thrown out of court.
In fact, the court claimed PETA essentially abandoned Naruto.
"Allowing next-friend standing on behalf of animals allows lawyers (as in Cetacean) and various interest groups (as here) to bring suit on behalf of those animals or objects with no means or manner to ensure the animals' interests are truly being expressed or advanced", Smith writes.
"I was making no money from photography, which is a hard industry to begin with", Slater, 53, said.