A macaque monkey who took selfies became famous as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) filed a lawsuit seeking court order allowing PETA to administer all proceed from the photos for the benefit of the said monkey.
The 6-year-old monkey, Naruto, who took now-famous selfie photographs should be declared the copyright owner of the photos, rather than the nature photographer who positioned the camera, animal-rights activists contend in a novel lawsuit.
The PETA claims that they should administer all proceeds from the photos for the benefit of the monkey and other crested macaques living in a reserve on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
The photos were taken during a 2011 trip to Sulawesi by British nature photographer David Slater.
Through San Francisco-based self-publishing company Blurb, he has published a book called Wildlife Personalities that includes the ‘monkey selfie’ photos.
However, the photos have been widely distributed elsewhere by outlets, including Wikipedia, which contend that no one owns the copyright to the images because they were taken by an animal, not a person.
Slater, who is exploring legal action against some of those outlets, said he was ‘very saddened’ by PETA’s lawsuit because he considers himself an advocate of animal rights.
A federal judge in San Francisco ruled the monkey could not be declared the copyright owner of the photos.
In the previous year, the US Copyright Office issued an updated compendium of its policies, including a section stipulating that it would register copyrights only for works produced by human beings.
It specified that works produced by animals, whether a photo taken by a monkey or a mural painted by an elephant, would not qualify.
However, Jeffrey Kerr, a lawyer with PETA, said the organisation would continue fighting for the monkey’s rights.
He also said the copyright office policy ‘is only an opinion,’ and the US Copyright Act itself does not contain language limiting copyrights to humans.
‘The act grants copyright to authors of original works, with no limit on species,’ Kerr said. ‘Copyright law is clear: It’s not the person who owns the camera, it’s the being who took the photograph.’
“Despite this setback, legal history was made today because we argued to a federal court why Naruto should be the owner of the copyright rather than been seen as a piece of property himself,” he told the ABC.
“This case is also exposing the hypocrisy of those who exploit animals for their own gain.”
According to PETA, the US Copyright Act grants copyright ownership of a “selfie” to the “author” of the photograph, and there is nothing in the law limiting such ownership on the basis of species.
PETA said on its website before the case: “As ‘next friend’ to Naruto, we’re seeking the court’s permission to manage the copyright of the photos, license them for commercial use, and use 100 per cent of the proceeds to benefit Naruto and his community, whose habitat and very existence are under threat.”
Slater has been openly dismayed by the prolonged dispute over the photos, and says the British copyright obtained for the photos by his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd, should be honored worldwide.
‘The facts are that I was the intellect behind the photos, I set the whole thing up,’ he said in an email. ‘A monkey only pressed a button of a camera set up on a tripod – a tripod I positioned and held throughout the shoot.’
Last year, as the dispute simmered, Slater offered copies of a ‘monkey selfie’ photo to purchasers willing to pay only for shipping and handling, and said he would donate $1.70 per order to a conservation project dedicated to protecting Sulawesi’s macaques. But he also has defended his right to make money from the photos.
‘I sincerely wish my 5-year-old daughter to be able to be proud of her father and inherit my copyrights so that she can make my work into an asset and inheritance and go to university,’ he wrote in his email. ‘I have very little else to offer.’