The latest development in the “Monkey Selfie” saga is that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have now taken up on the cause of the copyright ownership of the monkey. In September 2015, PETA filed a suit in federal court in San Francisco in favour of the macaque monkey, six year old Naruto, who clicked the now-famous selfie photographs. PETA has claimed that Naruto should be the declared and rightful copyright owner of the photos, as opposed to the photographer who positioned the camera. PETA is seeking a court order allowing PETA to administer all proceeds from the photo for the benefit of Naruto and its other macaques friends living in the reserve on the Indonesian Island of Sulawasi.
Earlier to this, the US Copyright office decided that neither Naruto nor the camera owner held the photograph. The copyright office reasoned that according to Chapter 300 of the Compendium of US Copyright Office Practices, the US Copyright Office will register an original work of authorship; provided the work was created by a human being, ergo a monkey cannot be a copyright owner.
The British nature photographer - David Slater, who got tangled into this unconventional copyright ownership battle with a monkey since 2011, is fighting numerous battles for his legal right for the wide distribution of the monkey selfies. He says he is “very saddened” by PETA’s lawsuit since he himself claims to be an avid advocate for animal rights.
PETA’s lawyer, Jeffery Kerr dissented to US Copyright office’s decision by stating that the policy “is only an opinion” and that the US Copyright Act does not limit copyrights to humans. Kerr said, “The Act grants copyright to authors of original works, with no limit on species”. He further said that, “Copyright law is clear: it’s not the person who owns the camera, it’s the being who took the photograph.” The lawsuit was asserted by the citation of David Slater’s own written account of his encounter, that Naruto- “authored the monkey selfies by his own independent, autonomous actions in examining and manipulating Slater’s unattended camera”. The selfies have been now introduced as exhibits in the lawsuit.
PETA’s lawsuit has received a whirlwind of commendation and condemnation. Kerr is of the opinion that PETA has a strong case and that Naruto should be declared the photo’s owners. Michigan State University law professor and animal rights activist - David Favre, in an email said that the copyright issue raised by PETA “is a cutting edge legal question”. He further said that “they have a fair argument, but I would have to say it’s an uphill battle”. Chicago based, copyright specialized lawyer- Cheryl Dancey Balough raised the contentious question that, in the event the lawsuit proceeds, will Slater’s creative contribution to the selfies rise to a level that warrants a copyright. Harvard Law School professor- Laurence tribe, who supports animal rights stated that the litigation trivializes the terrible problems of needless animal slaughter and animal exploitation worldwide for lawyers to focus so much time and energy ingenuity on whether monkey own the copyright in selfies taken under the contrived circumstance.
On the other hand, Slater who is perturbed by the ongoing disputes over the photos, states that “The facts are that I was the intellect behind the photos, I set the whole thing up,” he said in an email. “A monkey only pressed a button of a camera set up on a tripod – a tripod I positioned and held throughout the shoot.”A victim of circumstance, Slater in an email said “I sincerely wish my five-year-old daughter to be able to be proud of her father and inherit my copyrights so that she can make my work into an asset and inheritance and go to university…I have very little else to offer her.”
Slater’s intentions have appeared to be noble throughout. In 2014, he has offered copies of “monkey selfie” to purchasers in return of payment for only shipping and handling. He even said that he would donate $1.70 from each order to a conservation project dedicated the protection of Sulawesi’s macaques.
Stating all and considering all aspects of the dispute the issue remains, if Slater should be allowed to take a free ride on some other beings’ alleged copyright. PETA has been known to sometimes stretch things a bit too far and make rather claims while advocating for animal rights.
So who is going to win this round of fight for copyright ownership? It shall all boil down to how well PETA advocates for its cause!