Post Content

A self-portrait taken by a black macaque monkey named Naruto on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia is the focus of a federal lawsuit filed on September 21 by the animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).  Naruto took the self-portrait with the camera of David Slater, a professional wildlife photographer, who had left the camera unattended on his tripod.  The photo was later included in Slater’s book, “Wildlife Personalities”.  It was posted on the internet by Wikimedia, where it has become wildly popular.  Wikimedia refuses to take the photo down despite a request by Slater, who claims to own the copyright.  Wikimedia claims that the photo is not copyrightable, because it was taken by Naruto, not Slater, and animals cannot own copyrights, so it is legally in the public domain.

PETA claims that the conception of “authorship” in U.S. copyright law under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq. is broad enough to include monkeys as authors, so Naruto should have copyright.  If PETA prevails, this would set an important precedent, potentially affecting the treatment of animals as persons in many other ways.  PETA would further demand that any proceeds earned from the reproduction of this photograph should be directed toward the conservation of the endangered black macaques of Naruto’s nature preserve in Sulawesi.

What does the law actually say on this matter?  The U.S. Copyright Office’s Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, (3rd edition, 2014) in chapter 300, section 313.2, states: ” To qualify as a work of “authorship” a work must be created by a human being. …Works that do not satisfy this requirement are not copyrightable. The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants…. Examples:  A photograph taken by a monkey.”  (The updated version of this manual will take effect in December 2015.)

The Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries has a web page devoted to “Law about Copyright“, including laws, regulations, and other useful resources.

Written By:


Recent Posts

Portraits in Massachusetts Law: Lucy Stone posted on Nov 13

Portraits in Massachusetts Law: Lucy Stone

Portraits in Massachusetts Law is a regular feature of Massachusetts Law Updates. These pages provide links to biographical information abut people who have been particularly important in legal history in Massachusetts, as our government took shape in the cauldron of the American Revolution and grew and changed throughout   …Continue Reading Portraits in Massachusetts Law: Lucy Stone

Word(s) of the month – suffrage posted on Nov 1

Word(s) of the month - suffrage

Words of law is a regular feature of Massachusetts Law Updates, highlighting a particular word or phrase and its meaning in law. Today’s word is suffrage. suffrage (sәf-rji). (14c) 1. the right or privilege of casting a vote at a public election. – Also termed right to vote.   …Continue Reading Word(s) of the month – suffrage

Index to blog post series about standing posted on Oct 22

In order to help navigating in and around our series about standing that was posted during the last two weeks, the following index may help: Words(s) of the month – standing posted October 16, 2019, from Black’s Law Dictionary, 11th ed., Bryan A. Garner, Editor   …Continue Reading Index to blog post series about standing