Sunday, January 10, 2016

Monkey Seek, Monkey Suit Thrown Out

This follows an earlier post (Sept. 24, 2015): A monkey named Naruto filed a lawsuit, with a lot of help from PETA, to claim copyright ownership in a selfie he’d taken and that went viral. Naruto sought in his legal claim to have himself named the copyright owner and the beneficiary of the proceeds from the photograph to benefit him and his fellow monkeys on the preserve where they lived.

As could have been predicted from my earlier post, on January 6, 2016 the monkey’s claim was bounced out of court. The federal judge in San Francisco ruled that a monkey, or any other animal for that matter, cannot “author” a work of art under copyright laws, much less be the owner of the resulting copyrighted work entitled to collect royalty checks from its exploitation.

Apparently the judge decided the case based on, of all things, a simple reading of the Copyright Act which, it’s true, nowhere suggests that animals can own copyrights.  As the judge reasoned, consistent with the case of Cetacean Community v. Bush, brought by whales and dolphins seeking legal benefits and protections different than copyright, Congress has the power to ensure that animals are covered by laws it passes, but it consistently chooses not to do so.

I’d like to think that if I’d been given a chance to argue this case, there might have been a different outcome. Taking a page or two from The Hot Monkey Love Trial, I think the judge might have been persuaded with a more genetic and less legalistic argument. It would rely on common sense and wouldn’t arbitrarily place so much darn stock on what the Copyright Act actually says or doesn’t say.

Here is the summation of my argument: “It’s a fact that genes of humans and monkeys are more than 98% identical. I mean, like, that’s just for starters, right out of the genomic gate, no questions asked. Not enough evidence? Really? Suppose then, your Honor, someone had inserted one nefarious but unique human gene into Naruto’s in vitro fertilization, closing the narrow gap even more, would your answer be the same? How about two such genes?

Try as you may, your Honor, to remain firm in your opinion and to refrain from slipping. But be forewarned, because that slope you’re on is lined with banana peels….”