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2 years later, dispute over copyright on primate selfie settled

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

Philosophy is a tricky thing. The questions wrestled with often seem simple, but a deeper dive into an issue shows the complications. One example is the famous question, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Another that might warrant the same scrutiny is one we posed more than two years ago. "Who should own the copyright in a selfie that is composed, art-directed, and shot by a monkey?" Should it be the owner of the camera or the monkey?

At that time, the issue was just entering the legal system. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had gone to federal court in San Francisco with the argument that images of an Indonesian macaque captured by the monkey's own interaction with a human-placed camera should allow the monkey to reap some of the resulting benefits. One photo in particular, featuring the toothy grin of a macaque named Naruto, went viral on the internet. It is now something of a moneymaker and brand image for the photographer.

PETA's claim was that Naruto should be granted "authorship" of the photo. The photographer, David Slater, said he set the stage for the photos to be taken, so he should be the "author."

It took two years, but the matter is now resolved, even though the broader question seems to remain. Last month, PETA and Slater announced a settlement under which Slater will donate one-quarter of any revenues the photo generates going forward. The deal appears to be an extension of one Slater announced back in July, when he pledged he would give 10 percent of money raised by the photo to monkey conservation in Indonesia.

It's worth noting that both sides also asked the court to dismiss the case and throw out a lower court ruling that found animals cannot own copyrights. PETA and Slater say they both agree legal rights deserve to be expanded to nonhuman animals and that they will "continue their respective work to achieve this goal."

Source:, "'Monkey Selfie' Lawsuit Ends With Settlement Between PETA, Photographer," Jason Slotkin, accessed on Oct. 27, 2017

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