September 28, 2022

Crafting the Litigious Event: Naruto v Slater and the Public Screening of Animal Personhood

Helsinki, Finland

Our project is now back from summer holidays and we want to once again thank everyone who participated to the Theory of Animal Law Conference in June. We are excited for the fall term and  our monthly animal law seminars will convene again. Please find below information regarding the future seminars. We invite everyone to register to the first seminar.  

Join us on 28 September 2022 at 4:15 PM (GMT+3) for a talk by S. Marek Muller (Florida Atlantic University) on:  

Crafting the Litigious Event: Naruto v Slater and the Public Screening of Animal Personhood 

Abstract: Using rhetoric as a theoretical framework and an analytic approach, I assess out-of-court texts pertaining toNaruto v. Slater, colloquially known in the United States as the “Monkey Selfie Lawsuit.” By turning toward theories of the public screen and communication-as-dissemination, I argue that while People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) formally lost Naruto the Macaque's case on appeal, it successfully litigated Naruto's novel copyright case in the court of public opinion. I offer the concept of the “litigious event”—a staged lawsuit designed for mass media dissemination—to defend this perspective. By latching onto the already-viral monkey selfies at the center of the copyright dispute, PETA took advantage of the public screen by bringing a private, logocentric civil suit into a public, image-based digital sphere. Increased coverage of the case allowed PETA's legal team to harness the power of digital media to disseminate important arguments about legal rights (specifically, intellectual property and legal personhood) for nonhuman animals. Naruto v. Slaterfunctioned as a trialformedia, as a strategic lawsuitforpublic participation—in other words, as a rhetorically powerful litigious event.

The seminar is open to everyone and prospective attendees are kindly asked to register by Tuesday 27 September 2022. The seminar will be in hybrid format, so please indicate in the registration form whether you want to join in person or via Zoom.


Bio: Dr. S. Marek Muller is a communication scholar interested in the rhetoric of U.S. animal ethics, law & policy. They received their PhD in Communication from the University of Utah in 2018. Since 2019, they have served as an Assistant Professor of Rhetorical Studies at Florida Atlantic University and as an affiliate faculty member for the Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Dr. Muller has published extensively in the fields of rhetoric, animal studies, and socio-legal studies in high-impact journals such as Communication Studies, Women' s Studies in Communication, Rhetoric & Public Affairs and Environmental Communication. Their monograph Impersonating Animals: Rhetoric, Ecofeminism, and Animal Rights Law was published by the Michigan State University Press in 2020.