PETA lawsuit claims famous monkey owns the selfie copyright

Sep 23, 2015

Liron Samuels

Liron Samuels is a wildlife and commercial photographer based in Israel. When he isn’t waking up at 4am to take photos of nature, he stays awake until 4am taking photos of the night skies or time lapses. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Facebook.

PETA lawsuit claims famous monkey owns the selfie copyright

Sep 23, 2015

Liron Samuels

Liron Samuels is a wildlife and commercial photographer based in Israel. When he isn’t waking up at 4am to take photos of nature, he stays awake until 4am taking photos of the night skies or time lapses. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Facebook.

Join the Discussion

Share on:

monkey-selfies-peta

Remember the macaque monkey who snapped a few selfies that went wildly viral back in 2011?

While photographer David Slater and Wikipedia argued about whether or not the photographer owned the copyrights, and the U.S. Copyright Office also chimed in, there’s now a third party involved – with an entirely new claim.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has filed a suit in a San Francisco federal court claiming that the monkey should be recognized as the legal copyright owner, and requested permission to administer the proceeds for the benefit of the monkey and his friends.

Global News reports that the animal rights group is seeking a court order allowing it “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 famous photos were taken back in 2011 when nature photographer David Slater travelled to Sulawesi for a book he later published, titled “Wildlife Personalities”.

Slater set up the camera and tripod, but the fact that the monkey ended up posing and pressing the shutter button led several outlets, including Wikipedia, to use the photos freely and claim that nobody owns the copyright.

While Slater continued to insist that he should be granted the rights to the photos, adding that the British copyright he was granted should be accepted worldwide, the U.S. Copyright Office updated its policies last year, much to his disapproval.

The update stated that the U.S. Copyright Office “will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants”.

So, keeping in mind the Copyright Office’s updated policy, how does PETA plan on obtaining copyright on behalf of the monkey?

Well, PETA lawyer Jeffrey Kerr claims the policy “is only an opinion” and adds that the U.S. Copyright Act does not limit copyrights to humans. “The act grants copyright to authors of original works, with no limit on species,” he said. “Copyright law is clear: It’s not the person who owns the camera, it’s the being who took the photograph.”

Basing the suit partly on Slater’s story of how the photo was taken, PETA’s lawsuit argues that the monkey “authored the monkey selfies by his own independent, autonomous actions in examining and manipulating Slater’s unattended camera.”

The Copyright Act might not state it applies only to humans, but as far as I know it doesn’t imply anything about non-humans being able to own copyright either. I think it’s safe to assume that nobody thought about the issue back then, and I doubt it was intended to allow animals to own copyrights, but that’s just me…

Slater is said to still be exploring legal action against those who used the photos without his permission (and without paying him), but if PETA gets its way Slater could be charged for using the photos himself.

The photographer did not comment on that possibility, but he did say he is “very saddened” by PETA’s lawsuit. After all, he considers himself an animal rights advocate as well and has been using the photos to raise awareness and funds for the Sulawesi monkeys.

While PETA says it “has a very strong case” and Michigan State University law professor David Favre says the issue they raised “is a cutting edge legal question” and that they have “a fair argument”, not all animal rights advocates are impressed with the controversial move.

“It trivializes the terrible problems of needless animal slaughter and avoidable animal exploitation worldwide for lawyers to focus so much energy and ingenuity on whether monkeys own the copyright in selfies taken under these contrived circumstances”, said Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe.

Other law experts seem to think this suit has slim chances of getting anywhere, but PETA is not a stranger to such cases. Back in 2011 it filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld parks claiming a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s ban on slavery over the way five killer whales were being held in captivity.

Whether you’re a fan of PETA or think they’re a PITA, this will no doubt be an interesting case to follow.

One person who will definitely be interested in the outcome of PETA’s suit is Christian LeBlanc, whose GoPro was used to capture the world’s first elphie.

[via Global News | Lead Image: David Slater and/or Naruto the macaque monkey]

Filed Under:

Tagged With:

Find this interesting? Share it with your friends!

Liron Samuels

Liron Samuels

Liron Samuels is a wildlife and commercial photographer based in Israel. When he isn’t waking up at 4am to take photos of nature, he stays awake until 4am taking photos of the night skies or time lapses. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Facebook.

Join the Discussion

DIYP Comment Policy
Be nice, be on-topic, no personal information or flames.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

20 responses to “PETA lawsuit claims famous monkey owns the selfie copyright”

  1. Cy Cox Avatar
    Cy Cox

    Wow.

  2. Robert Guimont Avatar
    Robert Guimont

    There’s a typo. It should be PITA, Pain In The A$$.

  3. aleroe Avatar
    aleroe

    The Constitution gives Congress the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for
    limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their
    respective Writings and Discoveries.”

    So unless copyrights will motivate monkeys to create more art, I don’t think copyright law applies to them.

  4. mzungu Avatar
    mzungu

    What gives PETA the right to represent the monkey? If the monkey have rights, then PETA should have no rights to represent the monkey without the monkey’s consent. I like to see that consent form. :P Unless PETA willing to treat the monkey as some mentally disable entity…. :D Krazi Pink Skins…

  5. John Crippen Avatar
    John Crippen

    Who cares. They are nutjobs.

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      No more of a nutjob than the judge who denied David Slater his copyright in the first place.

      1. aleroe Avatar
        aleroe

        I disagree with the judge’s decision, but I think he was on firmer ground than PETA.

  6. William Pead Avatar
    William Pead

    PETA has finally jumped the shark!

  7. aleroe Avatar
    aleroe

    If I were a contributor to PETA, I’d be worried that they’re wasting resources on an obviously futile lawsuit.

  8. Sean Avatar
    Sean

    People Eating Tasty Animals!

  9. Vincent Ho Avatar
    Vincent Ho

    What does the copyright has to do with “Ethical Treatment of Animal”? They should just stick with animal cruelty case.

  10. Gvido Mūrnieks Avatar
    Gvido Mūrnieks

    So, what about those animal cameras in forests, that are trigered with motion sensors?

    1. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
      Kay O. Sweaver

      You mean Photobooth Forest?

  11. Alexandre El Ayoubi Avatar
    Alexandre El Ayoubi

    Next time say you used a remote control. End of question.

  12. Boats Avatar
    Boats

    I’m pretty sure that this was already covered in the copyright lawsuit from the photographer. This is just a publicity stunt by PETA.

    Sadly, this only serves to reinforce the perception that they are just a bunch of nutjobs…

  13. Rick Scheibner Avatar
    Rick Scheibner

    Please PETA, don’t continue to marginalize yourself as a fringe special interest group with stunts like this. Let’s take care of the animals in the world that are truly being hurt by the actions of humans. This monkey has no concept of copyright laws. Nor will he (or she) by you pushing a lawsuit through the system.

  14. R Lyon Avatar
    R Lyon

    A little monkey lived all by himself on a tiny desert island near the sea. He was very lonely as there was no one to play with him.

    One day, a fish who was swimming by, saw the monkey sitting alone in one part of the island and told him to follow him to another island nearby where he could make lots of friends.

    The monkey tried to swim but did not like being wet. A pelican tried to teach him to fly but that was too difficult for him. Finally, the monkey decided to chop down all the trees to make a raft. But a turtle hearing him said that it was a silly idea as then there would be nothing left for anyone to eat. The turtle offered to take the monkey on its back across the sea but the monkey was too big for him. Finally, the turtle’s great-grandfather carried the monkey on its back to the other island. The monkey was very happy because he found lots of monkeys there and knew that he would never be lonely again.

    I don’t own this short story but Tigger my cat accidentally pushed the share button. So i wonder if she will need a Defense attorney Just in case.

  15. Christopher R Field Avatar
    Christopher R Field

    Peta is run by a bunch of morons

  16. kmlgraph Avatar
    kmlgraph

    A wedding photographer finds and selects a creative shooting location, sets up his camera on a tripod, selects his lens of choice to create his vision and adjusts all settings on the camera and lens for creative effect. But then the bride comes over and pushes the shutter button. She then claims copyright ownership of the resulting image and refuses to pay the photographer.

    The monkey did not conceive or design the photo. Copyright goes to the photographer. End of story.

  17. Dennis Watts Avatar
    Dennis Watts

    The judge should award the photographer damages for his lost time, and legal fees. Untill there are consequences for this type of leal black mail, despicable organizations like PETA will continue to use our courts to further there agenda.