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Animal Rights Group Loses Copyright Suit Over Monkey Selfies


We here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED have not yet reported on the following story, but now it's time - the monkey selfie.

Back in 2011, a monkey in Indonesia grabbed a camera, aimed it at himself and managed to take his own photos. The selfies of the grinning crested macaque went viral. Because it was the monkey who took the wildly popular pictures, the question became - who owns the photos? - and, more importantly - who gets the royalties? An animal rights group says the monkey does, so they filed a lawsuit on his behalf. And that's how his case ended up in court.

ANDREW DHUEY: (Reading) A monkey, an animal rights organization and a primatologist walk into federal court to sue for infringement of the monkey's claimed copyright.

What seems like the setup for a punch line is really happening.

MCEVERS: That's attorney Andrew Dhuey reading from his motion to dismiss the suit. His client is the photographer who owns the camera that the monkey used to take the selfie.

DHUEY: My client is a professional photographer, and he made a lot of artistic choices. And just because the monkey pressed the shutter button doesn't mean the monkey is the author. My client is the author.

MCEVERS: Yesterday, a federal judge agreed. He issued a tentative ruling that the monkey cannot own the copyright because - he's a monkey. Dhuey says it wasn't a tough case to win.

DHUEY: My tuxedo cats could have won this case.

MCEVERS: We were curious about copyright law as it applies to non-humans. So of course we asked our legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg to weigh in on the merits of the case.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: To put this in terms we all understand - we all love our animals, but I don't think the founding fathers actually thought that the copyright stuff that's in the Constitution, which it is, applied to non-human individuals.

MCEVERS: But Nina says the issue over animal rights and legal standing is an interesting one.

TOTENBERG: There's some areas of the law where animals do have certain rights. I mean, there have been cases where dogs or animals do inherent, and somebody or some organization is appointed as a guardian for that pet. So there are parts of the law where I suppose you could say that animals have some standing to sue.


TOTENBERG: Monkey see, monkey sue.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

TOTENBERG: We just had to say it.

MCEVERS: PETA, the animal rights group, says they will continue their fight, so we asked the photographer's lawyer if he thinks this case will drag through the courts.

DHUEY: I assure you Ms. Totenberg will not be covering this at the Supreme Court.

MCEVERS: But if it does, our fearless legal correspondent will bring you the story.

TOTENBERG: I'll be there barking right Supreme Court.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

TOTENBERG: Or meowing - sorry, I left out the cat lovers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.