PETA drops lawsuit arguing animals have right to own property

Naruto can beat his chest: Monkey’s habitat wins 25% stake in the selfies.

PETA officially dropped the Naruto case on Monday. We can all rest assured that, at least for now, the threat of animals becoming our overlords via their accumulation of new rights has dissipated.

For the unfamiliar, PETA sued nature photographer David Slater and accused him of copyright infringement for including the Naruto selfies in a book called Wildlife Personalities. The publisher, Blurb, was also sued for infringement. A San Francisco federal judge dismissed the case, saying animals cannot own property.

On behalf of Naruto, PETA appealed. The group claimed animals had a right to own intellectual property, but PETA agreed to drop the case Monday before it was decided.

If Naruto would have won, PETA said it would have donated all of the proceeds generated from the photos to protect the animal’s habitat on the Tangkoko reserve on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

While Naruto didn’t win the legal right to own the famous monkey selfies, he can thump his chest in a victory of sorts. Under the terms of the settlement, Slater has agreed to donate to Naruto’s habitat one-fourth of any proceeds from the sale of the selfies.

According to a joint statement from PETA and Slater:

PETA and David Slater agree that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for non-human animals, a goal that they both support, and they will continue their respective work to achieve this goal. As we learn more about Naruto, his community of macaques, and all other animals, we must recognize appropriate fundamental legal rights for them as our fellow global occupants and members of their own nations who want only to live their lives and be with their families. To further these goals, David Slater will donate 25% of future gross revenue from the Monkey Selfie photographs to charitable organizations dedicated to protecting and improving the welfare and habitat of Naruto and crested black macaques in Indonesia.

How the settlement affects Blurb, and whether it will get paid any of its legal fees, is unclear. That part of the settlement (PDF) remained confidential.

But how much are the monkey selfies even worth? Slater is free to sell them. But the US Copyright Office says the once-viral pictures shot in 2011 are in the public domain and cannot be copyrighted. In 2014, US copyright regulators agreed with Wikipedia’s conclusion and said that a “photograph taken by a monkey” is unprotected intellectual property. That’s because, under US law, the intellectual property rights to photographs belong to the person who took them. Naruto is not a person under the law and, therefore, not entitled to own property.