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'Naruto' Should Sue PETA: The Ninth Circuit Wasn’t Monkeying Around

According to what is called “The Infinite Monkey Theorem,” a monkey banging away on a keyboard for an infinite period of time will “almost surely” produce a recognizable text, such as a Shakespearean play. By most calculations, that “infinite period of time” is thousands of times longer than the age of the universe, and even this requires all the monkeys in the world typing simultaneously. So in other words, the chances are effectively zero.

However, other forms of what might be called “accidental artistic expression” have occurred. Still, that doesn’t make a monkey into an artist.

For example, in 2011, wildlife photographer David Slater was in Indonesia when a group of monkeys started, well, monkeying around. One monkey pressed the remote shutter-release and took an accidental “selfie” of himself. The picture, in which the monkey appeared to be smiling, later appeared in a 2015 book featuring Slater’s work, was shared widely online, and turned into a meme.

In response, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a.k.a., PETA, filed a suit against Slater for copyright infringement on behalf of the monkey, whom someone, but certainly not another monkey, named Naruto.

Never mind that “Naruto” didn’t intend to take a picture of himself or know what the button that he pushed even did.

Oh, and let’s remember this fact: “Naruto” is a monkey. Suing on his behalf for copyright infringement is kind of like filing a wrongful death lawsuit against Chevrolet on behalf of a squirrel run over by a Camaro.

PETA claimed to have legal standing by acting as a “next friend,” which is a legal term for someone who represents the interests of someone who cannot bring suit on his or her own behalf.

In 2016, a federal judge ruled that animals, which—in case it needs to be said—includes monkeys, can’t own copyrights. PETA appealed that ruling to the Ninth Circuit, where it became clear at oral arguments they were going to lose.

So PETA decided to settle with Slater, who was anxious to put the issue behind him. The settlement, in which one-quarter of the proceeds from the picture would be given to PETA for uses of its own choosing, was submitted, along with a request for dismissal, to the Ninth Circuit.

In mid-April, the court rejected the settlement and made clear that copyright law only applies to humans. As the Verge put it, “monkey can see, but monkey can’t sue.” It also ordered PETA to pay Slater’s legal fees.

Thankfully, the court didn’t stop there. It slammed PETA, writing that “Puzzlingly, while representing to the world that ‘animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any other way,’ PETA seems to employ Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals.”

The court even went so far as to mock PETA’s claim to be the monkey’s “friend,” writing that “if any such relationship [with Naruto] exists, PETA appears to have failed to live up to the title of ‘friend.’” It ended by saying that if Naruto were capable of suing, he might want to consider suing PETA.

I never thought I’d say this on BreakPoint, but three cheers for the Ninth Circuit! Not only did they uphold common sense, they recognized that PETA’s so-called “advocacy” is just thinly veiled ideology.

Their ideology seeks to erase the distinction between people and animals, not out of love for animals but out of a hostility toward people. It was the same hostility on display in the aftermath of a shark attack, when PETA ran ads with a picture of a shark eating a human that read “Payback is hell. Go Vegan.”

This worldview was what was really behind the lawsuit. Anyone waiting for PETA to act out of actual love for the creation would be better off waiting for a monkey to type Hamlet.


BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Publication date: May 3, 2018

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