Meet Me at the Watercooler (interesting topics to impress your co-workers)

As some of you may know, I work in the legal profession*.  As a result, I often hear of strange and interesting cases that have been put before the courts.  I will begin a new series #watercoolernews to keep you informed of the bizarre, unusual and obscure.

Hold onto your seats folks.

Do you remember seeing this cute macaque that took a selfie using a camera belonging to photojournalist, David Slater?  Apparently, Slater left his camera unattended sometime in 2011 while in Indonesia.  The monkey then found the camera and took a selfie.  Absolutely adorable, right?!


Self-portrait of a female Celebes crested macaque (photo credit: David Slater)

Slater has published this photograph and even offers prints for sale.  He donates a portion of the sales to one of the local charities supporting the monkeys in the area where this picture was taken.

Well, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) decided to sue Slater stating that he did not own the copyright (ownership & publication rights) to the picture.


Here’s what happened – PETA filed the suit stating that Slater can’t own the copyright because he did not create the picture.  The district court that heard the case made a ruling that a monkey is not a human and therefore does not have the same rights as humans.  Albeit, the president & congress can extend rights to animals in other situations.  In this case, it does not appear that the monkey has protection under the copyright laws, effectively dismissing the case.

What would his protection be anyway?  How is the monkey harmed by Slater reproducing the picture, selling the picture and donating proceeds to a charity that supports monkeys?

PETA appealed and case went to the court of appeals.  Sometime after the lower court’s ruling but before the case was heard by the court of appeals, all parties reached a settlement, essentially ending the matter, again.

Not so fast!

The court of appeals decided to render an opinion on the issue anyway and upheld the lower court’s opinion.


Not only is the lawsuit itself absurd, but so is the court of appeals’ wasteful use of time and resources by deciding to rule on a case that resolved itself months prior, twice before!

Discussion topics:

Is PETA being ridiculous in filing the lawsuit?

Once parties reach an agreement, is the court of appeals overreaching its duties by rending an opinion on a matter that the parties already settled?

Does the monkey have rights?

*DISCLAIMER: I’m not an attorney so any advice given should not be construed as legal advice but only as a common sense approach to general situations.