9 November 2015Copyright

‘Monkey selfie’ lawsuit is no laughing matter, argues UK photographer

“Monkey see, monkey sue is not good law” was the argument put forward by UK photographer David Slater in his opposition to a copyright lawsuit filed by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The photographer filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit at the US District Court for Northern District of California on Friday, November 6.

“A monkey, an animal-rights organisation and a primatologist walk into federal court to sue for infringement. What seems like the setup for a punch line is really happening,” the court document stated.

In September, PETA sued Slater, alleging that his reproduction of a ‘monkey selfie’ photograph in his 2014 book “Wildlife Personalities” constituted infringement.

The ‘monkey selfie’ was a photograph taken by a macaque ape using Slater’s camera while he was on an expedition in Indonesia in 2011. Slater has publicly admitted that he left the camera unattended and that Naruto, the name of the macaque ape, took a series of photographs including the one at the centre of the dispute.

The ‘monkey selfie’ has become popular on the internet with many users of social media sharing the image.

In 2012, Slater registered the image with the US Copyright Office.

PETA has claimed that the rights to the image belong to the macaque ape and that any royalties from the sale of it should be used “solely for the benefit of Naruto, his family and his community, including the preservation of their habitat”.

But Slater said that PETA’s complaint should be directed towards Congress, not the US courts.

“Congress has not plainly stated that non-human animals have standing to sue for copyright infringement. Nothing in US law even hints at that possibility. Indeed, imagining a monkey as the copyright ‘author’ under US copyright law is a farcical journey Dr Seuss might have written.

“If humans purporting to act on [a] plaintiff’s behalf wish for copyright to be among the areas of law where non-human animals have standing, they should make that dubious case to Congress—not the federal courts,” the court document concluded.

Slater told WIPR that he hoped the motion will now reveal the "true colours" of PETA as an organisation that has "more to do with publicity and donations than helping animals".

"They will attack someone who loves animals and works hard for their conservation, including financial help for the macaques through profits on sales of prints. PETA clearly have no regard for how this affects me financially and psychologically, nor my future and career as a conservation photographer," he added.

In response. Jeffrey Kerr, counsel at PETA, said that that Naruto is "absolutely entitled to copyright protection".

"The Copyright Act makes clear that the author of the work is entitled to copyright protection and there is no limitation on that definition. There is nothing that prohibits Naruto from being declared the copyright owner.

"If Slater is really concerned about the welfare of animals then he should join us," Kerr concluded.

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More on this story

7 January 2016   A US court has dismissed a claim filed by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in which the organisation claimed that the copyright to the ‘monkey selfie’ photograph should belong to a macaque ape.
1 February 2016   A US court has ordered the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to take its ‘monkey selfie’ argument to Congress after it dismissed a complaint asserting that a Macaque ape should own the copyright to a photo it took of itself.