A macaque monkey who took now-famous selfie photographs should be declared the copyright owner of the photos, rather than the nature photographer who positioned the camera, radical animal-rights activists contend in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Of course, the animal rights activists wants to control the money for the monkey. How generous.
The suit was filed in federal court in San Francisco by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It seeks a court order allowing PETA to administer all proceeds from the photos for the benefit of the monkey, which it identified as 6-year-old Naruto, 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.
Last year, the U.S. 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 copyright office policy “is only an opinion,” and the U.S. 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.”
Citing Slater’s own written accounts of his encounter with the macaques, the lawsuit asserts that Naruto “authored the monkey selfies by his own independent, autonomous actions in examining and manipulating Slater’s unattended camera.”
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 her.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article