San Francisco judge says monkey in middle of selfie battle can't hold copyright

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A lawsuit in federal court today was brought by an unusual plaintiff -- a monkey. He's suing from a rainforest 8,000 miles away.

Jeff Kerr is the attorney for Naruto, a crested macaque monkey who took hold of a wildlife photographer's camera and snapped a series of selfies.

"Legal history is being made Wednesday in the federal case in San Francisco," said Kerr, general counsel for PETA. "Naruto created them, and he should be entitled to the copyright in those photo just like any other photographer."

The animal rights group PETA wants proceeds from the photos to go toward conserving the monkey's habitat.

"They're being hunted for bush meat, their habitat is being encroached on. They desperately need these proceeds to help protect them," Kerr said.

So they're suing the photographer and the self-publishing platform that printed his book.

The photographer's attorney Andrew Dhuey said he was shocked by the lawsuit.

"I slapped my forehead like everybody else did," Dhuey said.

Twitter users called it a mockery of the justice system, a waste of valuable court time, petty and somewhat absurd.

The defense lawyers also had criticism.

"It's an abuse of the judicial process," said one attorney.

"It's ridiculous," Dhuey said.

There are two questions in this case: One, who's the photographer, the one who sets up the camera, or the one who pushes the button? Second, what happens when the photographer just happens to be a monkey?

ABC7 News legal analyst Gil Sofer says the law is clear: monkeys can't own intellectual property.

"When you're talking about who is the author of the selfie, I think it's fair to say an author has to be human, that is certainly the position of the copyright office," Sofer said.

The judge agreed, siding with the defense on this. "It's an argument for congress. It's not an argument for a federal judge," Dhuey said.

If the case is dismissed, the question remains: who does own the copyright, the photographer or the public? The judge will give PETA a chance to amend its complaint.

"It's good publicity, it certainly makes a point, but as a matter of law, it's not going to have any legs. No pun intended," Soffer said.

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