You know the story already. Back in 2011, British photographer and nature lover David Slater found himself in a legal battle with Wikimedia over a funny picture of a monkey named Naruto. The image is funny because look at that goofy macaque’s mug but also because it is a selfie. Like an idiot, Slater left his camera unattended in an an Indonesian rainforest, and the monkey figured out how to press the shutter button. Wikimedia hosted the image and argued that it could not be copyrighted because it was taken by a monkey. Slater challenged the organisation in court, lost terribly, and wasted some £11,000 on legal fees. All for a monkey selfie.
Now that everyone’s forgotten about the viral news story, PETA is ready for attention now. The same organisation that made headlines for fat-shaming dead people is seeking a court order to take over the financial affairs of the selfie monkey, while arguing that Naruto is rightful owner of the copyright on the photos. The case specifically wants to take the proceeds from Slater’s self-published book, Wildlife Personalities, and give them money to Naruto and his friends.
Importantly though we must remember that monkeys are not humans. This minor fact is important because according to the United States Copyright Office, only humans can register copyrights for intellectual property. A PETA lawyer told The Associated Press that the Copyright Office’s policy is “is only an opinion.” Kerr added:
The act grants copyright to authors of original works, with no limit on species. Copyright law is clear: it’s not the person who owns the camera, it’s the being who took the photograph.
That’s just ludicrous. Now if it were some type of ape that took the photos — especially a chimpanzee — PETA might have more of a case. But the US Copyright Office has clearly addressed this issue. Moreover, PETA is clearly pursuing a ridiculous claim in order to win attention and cause a spectacle. PETA does this all the time.
It just feels like this selfie monkey spin cycle will never end. Maybe the monkey should get some money from the proceeds of the book. (Actually, the monkey already does because the nature-loving photographer that published the damn donates a portion of every sale to conservation efforts.) Maybe PETA needs to pick on somebody its own size, someone that’s actually hurting animals. Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe said it best in an interview:
[The litigation] trivializes the terrible problems of needless animal slaughter and avoidable animal exploitation worldwide for lawyers to focus so much energy and ingenuity on whether monkeys own the copyright in selfies taken under these contrived circumstances.
Long live Naruto the selfie monkey. Long live spectacle. [Associated Press]