If a monkey took a selfie then that picture belongs to him, or at least this is the way PETA sees it today. It seems that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are now in the business of making sure the animals are also treated ethically when it comes to copyright laws.
According to MSN News on September 23, this dilemma emerged when wildlife photographer, David J. Slater left his camera unattended while in Indonesia taking pictures of these endangered macaques. This group of monkeys found his camera enticing enough to pick it up and play with it like it was a new toy.
This turned into a photo shoot of selfies as one monkey in particular clicked away resulting in grinning monkey mugs looking at this newfangled piece of technology. There’s no doubt about it, the pictures are hysterically adorable, but that’s not what is being debated today. It is the ownership of these images that has the photographer and this Indonesian monkey at odds in court.
Of course the monkey who snapped these pictures isn’t actually in the courtroom, but PETA is there representing the monkey and his rights to these pictures. A few of the pictures have become viral images, with one in particular becoming the epitome of a monkey selfie! The monkey’s name is Naruto and this macaque’s image has become famous as the “monkey selfie.” He is also the monkey that PETA believes is the legal copyright holder of these pictures.
The photographer calls what PETA is doing a “stunt” and he said: “This makes animal welfare charities look bad which saddens me, deflecting away from the animals and onto stunts like this.” It was his camera and he was out on a photo shoot taking images of these monkeys.
Slater, who has worked with PETA in the past, also said, “I am obviously bemused at PETA’s stunt but also angry as well as sad.” According to CNN News today, PETA said in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco:
“While the claim of authorship by species other than homo sapiens may be novel, ‘authorship; under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., is sufficiently broad so as to permit the protections of the law to extend to any original work, including those created by Naruto.”
While the photos were taken in Indonesia, PETA says the jurisdiction is with a U.S. federal court in California because this is where the publisher is based who has published Slater’s book with the monkeys’ pictures. The book is called “Wildlife Personalities.”
Slater, his UK-based company Wildlife Personalities, and Blurb, Inc., a Delaware-based corporation are named in this lawsuit. It was Blurb Inc, which published the monkeys’ pictures in a book and sold for profit in the United States. The images of the monkeys posted in that book are part of the lawsuit. It is on the cover of that book where the famous Naruto’s selfie appears.
Slater describes himself as a “poorly-paid wildlife photographer.” He is sympathetic to the cause of animal plights and he ekes out a meager living by taking these pictures. “I am sympathetic in my book for animals having rights to property in some circumstances, but in no way do I mean copyrights,” Slater said in an e-mail, according to MSN today.
PETA requests that Naruto be declared the author and copyright owner of the photos by the court. They also are asking the court to award the monkey damages. According to MSN, PETA also asked in the court documents to let “PETA and a noted primatologist, Dr. Antje Engelhardt of Georg-August University, Gottingen, Germany, administer Naruto’s rights on condition that all proceeds be used solely for the benefit of him, his family and community, including the preservation of their habitat.”