Photography

Judge Verdict on Monkey Selfie—Copyright Does NOT Belong to the Monkey

It is a story which we have been following with a slack jaw and one eyebrow raised, a tale of animals, copyright—and the grey area in between.

A quick recap:

2011

  • Wildlife photographer David Slater (DJS Photography) sets up shot with monkeys in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Monkey ‘Naruto’ presses shutter button, capturing himself in a ‘selfie’

July 2011

  • Blog TechDirt and other sites list ‘monkey selfie’ as public domain, claiming the Slater does not own the copyright, the monkey does

December 2014

  • David Slater features the image in his book ‘Wildlife Personalities’

August 2014

  • Wikipedia gives support to copyright claim ‘by the monkey’

September 2015

  • PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) sues Slater, stating all proceeds from the selfie should go to Naruto (via them)

November 2015

  • Slater claims the featured monkey is not (male) Naruto, but a female monkey

December 2015

  • United States Copyright Office updated its policies, clarifies that works created by a non-human are not subject to US copyright

January 2016

  • US district judge William Orrick rules that a monkey cannot own copyright to the image

Orrick commented that, while Congress and the President can extend the protection of law to animals, there is no indication in the Copyright Act that this has been done.

The lawsuit that PETA has just seen dismissed claimed that the featured monkey, Naruto, was aware of cameras, having seen many tourists and professional photographers in the area using them.

It alleged that Naruto saw Slater’s unattended camera and took the selfie (and a series of other shots) through “purposeful and voluntary acts…unaided by Slater.”

Naruto is said to have purposefully pressed the shutter release multiple times, “understanding the cause-and-effect relationship between pressing the shutter release, the noise of the shutter and the change to his reflection in the camera lens.”

What’s next? PETA is welcome to file an amended lawsuit, it was previously thought that they may edit they claim to distance themselves from the claim that the monkey featured is Naruto, though in light of Judge Orrick’s comments they may attempt to approach it with other, even more outlandish tactics.

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The challenge for Slater remains the same, whilst common sense is prevailing in not giving the monkey copyright, he will need to have his ownership formally recognised in order to stop the image series being filed under public domain.

He is now set to sue Wikipedia as, in his eyes, they have been the worst offenders of the lot.

The saga continues and, our hope is, habitat and wildlife preservation proponent Slater is awarded his copyright and things can be as they should.

After all, this was never really a battle between a man and a monkey. It was money, some people wanted it, some people didn’t want to pay it.

Further reading:

The ‘monkey selfie’ saga begins

PETA adopts strange tactics in the ‘monkey selfie’ copyright battle