David Slater, a professional wildlife photographer, was on a visit on Sulawesi, Indonesia, when he left his camera on a tripod at his campsite in the jungle of the Tangkoko reserve. A troop of macaque monkeys entered the campsite and began, in typical monkey fashion, to toss things about. A 7-year-old macaque, called Naruto, got hold of his camera and started pressing buttons. Later, Slater discovered selfies of the monkey on his camera, one of which later went on to gain worldwide popularity.
In 2015, PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — filed suit against Slater in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California asserting
(a) That the monkey as the photographer was the owner of the copyright in the photo,
(b) That Slater had infringed Naruto’s copyright by publishing a book containing this and other “monkey selfies and
(c) Seeking to be named a guardian ad litem of the monkey’s rights in the photo.
The judge dismissed the claims saying that the Copyright Act does not authorize vesting copyright ownership in nonhumans. PETA then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
Back to the present:
Two years later, the case has finally been settled. Under the agreement, Slater will donate 25% of any future revenue derived from using or selling the monkey selfie to charities that protect the crested macaques' habitat in Indonesia.
Both Naruto and Slater left court copyright less. The monkey’s claim to the copyright was always weak. It’s not as much because of him being a monkey, but more because, intellectual property is basically what its name says it is – property created using complex mental processes. Naruto did not engage in any such process or even intend to do so. He simply just pressed buttons. It doesn’t give him claim to a copyright.
Just like how ‘I pressed the button’ isn’t solid ground for copyright, neither is ‘I set up the camera’. Which is why it makes sense for Slater to leave court empty handed as well. All in all, the case, for all its controversy, ended in a win-win situation for both parties.