Is this the end of the ‘Monkey Selfie’ case? After a 6-year long dispute, it would appear so following a settlement between the parties in which defendant, David Slater agreed to donate proceeds from sales of the “selfie” to animal welfare charities.
In 2011, photographer David Slater travelled to Sulawesi, Indonesia to spend a week taking pictures of macaques. After mounting his camera on a tripod, one of the monkeys, Naruto, approached and began pressing the shutter button, taking several photos, including the ‘selfie’ in question.
The legal action commenced when Wikipedia posted one of the photos on its site without Mr. Slater’s permission, and subsequently refused to take down the photo, claiming the copyright belonged to the monkey, however, the US Copyright Office went on to rule that animals could not own copyright.
In 2014, Mr. Slater and publisher, Blurb, Inc., published a book in the US which contained some of the photos Naruto took, with Mr. Slater and his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd, stating that they were the copyright owners of the photos. The US charity, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Inc. (PETA) weighed in on the dispute, eventually suing Mr. Slater in 2015 claiming that the copyright belonged to Naruto.
PETA argued that the Monkey Selfies “resulted from a series of purposeful and voluntary actions by Naruto, unaided by Slater, resulting in original works of authorship not by Slater, but by Naruto… 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.”
Consequently, PETA sought to prevent Mr. Slater and the other defendants from copying, licensing, or distributing the Monkey Selfies and claimed that Naruto should have the right to damages for the copyright infringement.
During the hearing, the parties argued whether a monkey could claim copyright. The courts however ruled that animals cannot own property and the case was dismissed. PETA appealed but dropped the case in September 2017 after an agreement was reached for Mr. Slater to donate 25 percent of future gross revenue from the photographs to charitable organisations dedicated to the welfare of crested black macaques in Indonesia. Mr. Slater and PETA issued a joint statement,
“PETA and David Slater agree that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for non-human animals, a goal that they both support, and they will continue their respective work to achieve this goal. As we learn more about Naruto, his community of macaques, and all other animals, we must recognize appropriate fundamental legal rights for them as our fellow global occupants and members of their own nations who want only to live their lives and be with their families.“
While it seems the debate over Naruto’s legal rights is over, the case has been a significant step forward to recognising the fundamental rights of animals.