In a strange turn of events, a suit was initiated in 2015 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in a California Court as next friends on behalf of a Monkey!

Monkey Selfie

David Slater, a British Photographer, visited Indonesia in hopes of capturing the wildlife present there. To his surprise, a black macaque monkey did his job by clicking selfies of himself!

When Slater had left his camera unguarded, the monkey named Naruto grabbed it and took pictures of him. One noteworthy shot was of Naruto showcasing glee and self-awareness through his expressions. Slater subsequently published the ‘monkey selfies’ in a book to which he owned the copyright. Aggrieved by this, PETA, on behalf of Naruto, sued Slater demanding copyright over the pictures on the grounds that the pictures were the work of Naruto and not that of Slater.

The pertinent questions were whether PETA could sue as Naruto’s next friend and whether Naruto had Constitutional and Statutory standing to initiate a suit in Federal Court.

There are 3 factors that have to be fulfilled to assert Standing under Article III of the United States Constitution-(1)The plaintiff must have suffered an injury. (2) The injury is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant. (3) It is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. The plaintiff must also have statutory standing.

In Cetacean Community v Bush, it was held that animals have Article III Standing. During the argument stage, PETA argued that non-human entities such as corporations have been held to be persons and were given both constitutional and statutory standing and that the Copyright Act without express authorization permits statutory standing for corporations. Therefore, the Act contemplates statutory standing for animals as well. The Court, bound by the Cetacean Community case, stated that ‘animals can have Article III Standing.’ However, it expressed that it was an incorrectly decided judgment and subsequently asserted that animals have neither Constitutional nor Statutory Standing. In relation to Statutory Standing, the Court stated that – “If an Act of Congress plainly states that animals have statutory standing, and then animals have statutory standing. If the statute does not so plainly state, then animals do not have statutory standing.”

To act as a next friend, an entity has to establish that they have a rather significant relationship with the party to the suit. The court held that PETA lacked standing as Naruto’s next friend because it had failed to establish a significant relationship with Naruto and also stated that animals cannot be represented by a next friend.

This peculiar suit resulted in Slater agreeing to donate 25% of the future revenues he attains from the images to charities protecting crested macaques’ habitats.

This suit has become one of its kind in the Modern World. It raised some rather important questions pertaining to the Standing of Animals before the Court of Law. Although it was held that animals lack Constitutional and Statutory Standing, there are a plethora of statutes that do provide protection to animals from grievances.



3rd LLB

ILS Law College, Pune

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