Can an animal hold a copyright? That’s the question facing a San Francisco court after an animal rights campaign group filed a lawsuit on Tuesday arguing that a macaque monkey who took a series of selfies should own the rights to those images.
Filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the group contends the proceeds from the pictures should be used for the benefit of Naruto, a 6-year-old macaque who lives on an Indonesian reserve.
British nature photographer David Slater, who owned the camera on which the pictures were snapped in 2011, currently holds the copyright under British law.
The pictures were widely published around the world, most notably by Wikipedia, who argued that no one owned the copyright, as the monkey took the pictures.
According to US copyright policy, pictures created by animals cannot be registered. Peta disagrees; with lawyer Jeffrey Kerr stating that the law does not restrict registration to humans.
Kerr said: “The act grants copyright to authors of original works, with no limit on species. Copyright law is clear: it’s not the person who owns the camera, it’s the being who took the photograph.” He added that Naruto “authored the monkey selfies by his own independent, autonomous actions.”
Speaking to The Associated Press, Slater argued that he was the “intellect behind the photos” as he “set the whole thing up.” He added: "A monkey only pressed a button of a camera set up on a tripod – a tripod I positioned and held throughout the shoot."
Speaking of the litigation, Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law School professor, told AP it “trivialises the terrible problems of needless animal slaughter and avoidable animal exploitation worldwide.”