A US lawsuit has given a whole new meaning to the expression ‘monkey business’ after crested macaque settled his dispute with British wildlife photographer David Slater out of court.
Slater agreed to donate 25% of the revenue generated from a ‘monkey selfie’, which went viral in 2011, to charitable groups protecting the selfie’s star, Naruto the macaque, and fellow members of his species in Indonesia. The settlement was reached following a legal battle, which began after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed suit on behalf of Naruto in September 2015. In January 2016, Judge William Orrick declined to award Naruto monetary damages for copyright infringement because he held the US Copyright Act did not extend intellectual property rights to animals.
The famous ‘monkey selfies’ were snapped by Naruto after Slater left his camera unattended on a wildlife shoot in 2011 on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Slater published the images in his book ‘Wildlife Personalities’. Despite the widespread availability of the selfies online Slater sought international copyright protection for the photographs. PETA argued that Naruto ought to have been recognised as the true copyright owner under US law because he “authored the Monkey Selfies by his independent, autonomous actions” and Slater infringed Naruto’s copyright by selling the images as his own.
Slater, a freelance photographer from Chepstow, south Wales, said the costly legal battle had serious financial repercussions for him. He felt obliged to find additional work as a tennis coach and was even considering becoming a dog walker. When the ‘selfies’ went viral online Slater became entangled in a further lawsuit against two websites, which used the photograph without paying for reproduction rights.
Following the federal court decision in January 2016, PETA appealed to the US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which heard oral arguments in July 2017. Both sides went on to ask for the case to be dismissed after reaching the out-of-court deal. PETA’s general counsel, Jeff Kerr, said the deal would offer protection to the crested macaque whose existence is threatened by poaching.
“PETA’s groundbreaking case sparked a massive international discussion about the need to extend fundamental rights to animals for their own sake, not in relation to how they can be exploited by humans”, Kerr stated.