Monkey Selfie: Photographer David Slater Settles 2 Year Legal Battle

Monkey see. Monkey sue. Monkey settle.

A photographer has settled a two-year legal battle with an animal rights group over a selfie taken by a monkey.

Lawyers representing Naruto, a rare crested macaque, had argued the animal should be the photo’s owner and receive damages for copyright infringement to be used for habitat preservation after it gained international fame.

A compromise has now been agreed with the owner of the camera, photographer David Slater, who has agreed to donate 25 percent of any future revenue from the images to charities dedicated to protecting crested macaques in Indonesia.

25% of proceeds from sales will be donated to charities dedicated to protecting crested macaques in Indonesia (file picture)
25% of proceeds from sales will be donated to charities dedicated to protecting crested macaques in Indonesia (file picture)
Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Lawyers from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) who filed the lawsuit and Slater on Monday asked the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the case and throw out a lower-court decision that said animals cannot own copyrights.

PETA and Slater agreed in a joint statement: “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.”

There was no immediate ruling from the 9th Circuit on the dismissal.

PETA sued on behalf of the monkey in 2015, seeking financial control of the photographs for the benefit of Naruto, who snapped the photos with Slater’s camera. It said the pictures came from “a series of purposeful and voluntary actions by Naruto, unaided by Slater.”

Lawyers for Slater argued that his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd, owns worldwide commercial rights to the photos.

The photos were taken during a 2011 trip to Tangkoko Reserve in Sulawesi, Indonesia, with an unattended camera owned by Slater. Slater said the British copyright obtained for the photos by Wildlife Personalities should be honoured worldwide.

US District Judge William Orrick said in a ruling in favour of Slater last year that “while Congress and the president can extend the protection of law to animals as well as humans, there is no indication that they did so in the Copyright Act.” The 9th Circuit was considering PETA’s appeal.

The lawyers notified the appeals court on 4 August that they were nearing a settlement and asked the judges not to rule. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit heard oral arguments in the case in July.

PETA said: “We’ll continue working in the courts to establish legal rights for animals. Everyone deserves the rights we hold dear: to live as they choose, to be with their families, to be free from abuse and suffering and to benefit from their own creations.”

Sulawesi crested macaques are critically endangered, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Between 4,000 to 6,000 live on the island, and PETA said their numbers have decreased by about 90 percent in the last 25 years, mostly due to human encroachment on their rainforest homes.


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