Some of my recent posts have been about animals, and this month is no different. I’m sure most people have, at some point, heard of the selfie copyright issue involving the following parties: Naruto, a crested black macaque; David Slater, the British nature photographer; Wikimedia Commons; and Techdirt, a popular blog; and PETA.
If you haven’t, please do take a look at the Wiki page dedicated to this issue. It’s remarkable that the page is as neutral as it can be considering Wikimedia’s involvement in the dispute. Before we get into why this is remarkable, let’s recall the following.
The dispute has given rise to rather interesting questions: do animals have standing in a court of law? If yes, can animals sue for copyright infringement? The Wiki page listed the selfie–and still does–as being under the public domain, a claim Slater has disputed. Slater claims that he is the rightful owner of the selfies taken by the monkey, since he set up the equipment, thereby aiding the monkey to take the selfie. In other words, Slater’s argument holds that he has a valid copyright claim since he engineered the situation.
Wiki’s Laudable Commitment to the Neutrality Principle
These details (and more) are present in the Wiki page linked to above, and they are presented as is. That is, the page presents both sides of the issue (as Wikipedia usually strives to) without, however, taking a side. Both arguments are elaborated and backed by reviewed research. It would have been all too easy for Wiki to compromise on their neutrality principle here. It would also have been equally easy to lock the article from edits. They’ve done neither, which is commendable.
PETA sued Slater on behalf of Naruto in 2015, but the 2016 verdict held that animals simply do not have standing in a court of law. Nonetheless, the verdict also acknowledged PETA’s claim that Naruto had indeed acted “purposefully and voluntarily.” Though the verdict may have underwhelmed or disappointed those rooting for Naruto, it is quite encouraging nonetheless.
The Naruto Verdict: A Promising Legal Precedent?
Why? Because strange lawsuits always have the potential to become precedents. If, for instance, a similar suit is ever brought to court, it can be argued that animals should be accorded standing in a court of law, because they do act purposefully, voluntarily, and consciously–and that the 2016 verdict recognizes as much. Purposeful, voluntary actions are important criteria because they are inextricably linked to the question of rationality. Please see my old piece to recall how rationality is commonly understood and how this propagates animal cruelty and speciesism.
This is not to say that any similar case in the future will inevitably challenge the stance that animals have no standing in a court of law. Rather it is to shed light on the importance of a legal record that recognizes the ability of non-human animals to think and act consciously.
The case not only serves as an exciting precedent but also sheds light on Wiki’s unwavering commitment to neutrality in an increasingly partisan cyberspcae.