In college statistics classes, professors often point out that, in theory, an infinite number of monkeys randomly tapping on keyboards would eventually produce a great work of literature. But could the prolific primates get a copyright on their work?

The answer is no, according to a recent decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Appropriately for a case originally heard in hip, tech-focused San Francisco, the animal involved was a crested macaque, not an ordinary chimp, and the creative work was a selfie, not an old-fashioned novel.

It’s likely that Naruto, an adorable seven-year-old crested macaque living on a reserve in Indonesia, had no idea of the legal controversy that would result when, in 2011, he picked up a camera that photographer David Slater had briefly left unattended.

Naruto pointed the camera at himself and pressed the shutter several times, taking photographs that court documents solemnly identified as “the Monkey Selfies.”

The selfies were included in a book of photos published in 2014 by Slater – who dutifully credited Naruto as the cameramonkey of these snaps.

The following year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a complaint in federal court in San Francisco against Slater and others involved in the book’s publication, claiming copyright infringement on Naruto’s behalf.

PETA describes itself as “the largest animal rights organization in the world,” and says it “has championed establishing the rights and legal protections available to animals beyond their utility to human beings.”

Slater and his associates asked the district court to dismiss the claims, on the grounds that Naruto – 8,000 miles from the courtroom and presumably happily dining on fruits and bugs – lacked legal standing to sue or claim copyright.

The court agreed, ruling against Naruto. PETA then appealed.

The court of appeals said the position argued by PETA amounted to asking judges to decide “what another species desires. Do animals want to own property, such as copyrights? Are animals willing to assume the duties associated with the rights PETA seems to be advancing on their behalf?”

If Naruto owned the copyright on his photos and earned royalties on their use, the judges noted, he would also have the obligation to pay taxes on those royalties.

The court of appeals was a little more respectful of the creative macaque’s legal rights than the lower court had been.

The panel said the facts of the case were sufficient to establish that Naruto has legal standing for the case to be heard in court, because the lawsuit filed on his behalf claimed that “the monkey was the author and owner of the photographs and had suffered concrete and particularized economic harms.”

(The filings did not specify the economic benefit Naruto stood to gain, but one might imagine a Naruto self-portrait calendar, endorsement deals with Nikon, etc.)

Having dangled that legal rope swing in front of Naruto, the appellate judges then snatched it away.

Although the macaque had the right to have his case heard in court, they said, he “lacked statutory standing, because the Copyright Act does not expressly authorize animals to file copyright infringement suits.”

Unfortunately for Naruto, Congress never foresaw the possibility that monkeys could become creative artists.

Slater did agree to donate a quarter of his earnings from the book to charities that protect the habitat of Naruto and other crested macaques in Indonesia.

PETA asked to withdraw from the case just before the appeals court issued its ruling, causing the panel to scold the organization for abandoning Naruto and his claims.

“Were he capable of recognizing this abandonment,” the judges wrote, “we wonder whether Naruto might initiate an action for breach of confidential relationship against" PETA. The organization, they added, “seems to employ Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals.”

PETA not only lost its appeal; it was ordered to pay Slater’s costs.

Though there clearly is a move afoot to change the law to provide more rights for animals, Naruto and his colleagues will have to wait.

By Laurie Murphy