The case of Naruto the monkey

The case of Naruto the monkey and whether he should be given copyright over the now infamous ‘selfie’ he took with a photographer’s camera has again brought the issue of ownership of such assets to the fore.

The wrangle which erupted over the photo dates back to 2011, when the seven-year-old macaque took a smiling selfie using the camera of David Slater, a British photographer.

While Mr Slater staked his claim to financial control over the photo, he was challenged by animal rights group PETA, who argued that Naruto took the photo and therefore should have control over it, and that it was irrelevant whether the creator of such a piece was human or an animal.

In a recent judgement, the US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Naruto and PETA, calling their claim ‘frivolous’.

While this case is certainly unique and was a US case, it does again raise the thorny issue of copyright and who owns a piece of original work. Under UK law, copyright gives the author of certain types of material – literary or artistic works, sound or film recordings, computer programs and so on – the rights to control the use or commercial exploitation of the work that they have created.

In the UK, copyright does not need to be registered as, provided it falls into the applicable categories, it will arise automatically when the work is created. To clarify their position, the copyright owner may mark their copyright material when it is published with the international copyright symbol © followed by the name of the copyright owner and year of publication – this is an important step when enforcing copyright in certain overseas countries.

However, in the case of a dispute or infringement of your rights, it is important action is taken promptly to ensure your work is protected. The specialist IP team at Sintons is highly-regarded for assisting businesses in protecting their brand and enforcing their intellectual property rights.

While the case of Naruto and the debate over whether an animal can own copyright is set to continue, with PETA appealing the verdict which ruled in favour of Mr Slater, it serves as a timely reminder of the importance of taking the necessary steps to protect your intellectual property, and to take immediate action if your intellectual property rights have been infringed.

Lewis Couth is an Associate and IP dispute specialist at law firm Sintons, based in Newcastle. To speak to him about this or any other matter, contact Lewis on 0191 226 3653 or

Pippa Aitken is Head of IP at Sintons and can be contacted on 0191 226 7842 or

Photo by David J Slater.

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