“We Must Determine Whether a Monkey May Sue Humans”

Takeaway: “Unless the statute expressly gives animals the right to sue, they do not have the right to sue.”

Yes, this really is a quote from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The answer to whether a monkey may sue humans is yes . . . and no. On the one hand, the court found that the monkey had standing under Article III of the United States Constitution, but, on the other hand, the monkey lacked statutory standing under 17 U.S.C. § 101.

This question came about when David Slater, a photographer, left his camera unattended in a wildlife reserve. Naruto, a monkey living in the wildlife reserve, picked up the camera and began taking pictures of himself. Later, Slater published a book containing the pictures that Naruto took of himself. Slater additionally claimed copyright of the photos that Naruto took. When PETA and Dr. Antje Engelhardt found out about this publication, they filed a complaint against Slater.

The issue that arises out of this case is whether Naruto, a monkey, actually had standing to sue Slater. Surprisingly, this case is very similar to a prior case brought on behalf of the world’s whales, dolphins, and porpoises (“Cetaceans”) in Cetacean Community v. Bush. There, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Cetaceans, represented by a self-appointed lawyer, did present a case or controversy against the military because they were being injured by sonar technology. Even though the Cetaceans presented a proper case or controversy satisfying Article III, the court determined that if Congress really wanted animals to have the right to sue, the statutes or “provisions involved therefore should state such rights expressly.” In other words, the Ninth Circuit believes that Congress should expressly state that animals have rights to sue under the specific statute.

In Cetaceans, the court found that even though the Cetaceans satisfied the case and controversy requirement under Article III, there was no express permission for animals to sue under the environmental statutes, and therefore, they lacked statutory standing. Here, just as in Cetaceans, the Copyright statute does not expressly state that animals may sue, and therefore, cannot sue under the copyright statute.