The crested-macaque monkey on Sulawesi Island in Indonesia, that took a British photographer’s camera and snapped a few photos, has no right to copyright infringement damages, federal court Judge William Orrick ruled January 6 in San Francisco.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed the lawsuit in September 2015 against photographer David Slater, his company, and a publishing platform that used the “selfie” of the monkey on the front cover of a book titled Wildlife Personalities.
Jeff Kerr, general counsel to PETA, who is part of the legal team representing Naruto, said:
“Despite this setback, we are celebrating that legal history was made in our unprecedented argument to a federal court that Naruto, a crested macaque monkey, should be the owner of property (specifically, the copyright to the famous “monkey selfie” photos that he undeniably took), rather than a mere piece of property himself.
“We will continue to fight for Naruto and his fellow macaques, who are in grave danger of being killed for bush meat, or for foraging for food in a nearby village while their habitat disappears because of human encroachment. This case is a vital step toward fundamental rights for nonhuman animals for their own sake, not in relation to how they can be exploited by humans. As my legal mentor used to say: ‘In social-cause cases, historically, you lose, you lose, you lose, and then you win.’ PETA is working hard for that day to come when nonhuman animals’ basic rights are recognized.”
The photographer told Reuters via email that he felt “rather bemused” by the lawsuit, which he felt was simply a publicity stunt on behalf of PETA.
“Their focus seems more aimed at making me out to be a criminal than someone who loves and respects, and fights for animals… I have to wonder what are the true motives behind this attack on me,” Slater wrote in the email.
The monkey’s grinning full tooth “selfie” went viral in 2011, and was later made available to the public free on Wikipedia Commons. Slater asked Wiki to remove the photo because he believed he owned the copyright.
Wiki had refused to take the photo down, according to its Transparency Report published in August last year, because the site’s operators did not believe the photographer owned the copyright.
The U.S. Copyright Office in its Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices Third Edition, which was published December 22, 2014, said that a “photograph taken by a monkey” for example, is unprotected intellectual property.
“The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants. Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings, although the Office may register a work where the application or the deposit copy state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit,” the draft report said.
Slater described how the “selfie” was taken in a blog post on his website:
“It was about midday on the second day, and the monkeys, about 25 strong of all ages, halted for a rest, and a grooming session. It had been a hard day as usual, slashing through tangled and very humid jungle, climbing over and squatting under fallen trees, all with a 20kg backpack on full of expensive camera gear. I sat close by them, camera at the ready as always. I must have tuned in to them, because after some time a few brave monkeys began to come closer, and slowly but surely began paying me more attention. I held out my hand and WOW, one held my hand back. Shock! This went on for maybe 15 minutes. They started to groom me, picking through my hair as I knelt on the ground, hunched over my camera, but desperate to record it all. I knew about monkey etiquette from many previous encounters around the world, and this made that knowledge so much more than worthwhile.
I decided to set up the camera on a beanbag on a log, self-timer all set. I was afraid they would run off of course, but they didn’t. Rather, they grabbed my camera! Quick thinking had my guide rushing to save it — lesson learnt. Setting up the camera again, some of the cheekier monkeys had now got bored, and now even my guide had wandered off for a smoke. I was alone and had to encourage the monkeys back to me for my intended contact experience photo. Soon enough, I was jokingly asking for his help again as the monkeys looked increasingly cheeky as they touched the camera with that glint in their piercing red eyes. It was now that I heard some frames reeled off when my guide struggled to keep the camera from little monkey fingers — the scene was set.
I wanted to keep my new found friends happy and with me. I now wanted to get right in their faces with a wide angle lens, but that was proving too difficult as they were nervous of something — I couldn’t tell what. So I put my camera on a tripod with a very wide angle lens, settings configured such as predictive autofocus, motorwind, even a flashgun, to give me a chance of a facial close up if they were to approach again for a play. I duly moved away and bingo, they moved in, fingering the toy, pressing the buttons and fingering the lens. I was then to witness one of the funniest things ever as they grinned, grimaced and bared teeth at themselves in the reflection of the large glassy lens. Was this what they where afraid of earlier? Perhaps also the sight of the shutter planes moving within the lens also amused or scared them? They played with the camera until of course some images were inevitably taken! I had one hand on the tripod when this was going on, but I was being prodded and poked by would be groomers, and a few playful juveniles who nibbled at my arms. Eventually the dominant male at times became over excited, and eventually gave me a whack with his hand as he bounced off my back. I knew then that I had to leave before I possibly got him too upset. The whole experience lasted about 30 minutes.
It was like the joy of seeing your new baby learn about something new, and becoming enlightened with a new toy. They loved the shutter noise, but most of all they loved their own faces, “chimping” away in what seemed to me to be total fun for them…”