A few years ago in Indonesia, a photographer left his camera unattended. That was tempting for a curious crested black macaque named Naruto, who grabbed the camera and began taking photographs—some of the forest floor, some of other macaques, and several of himself, one of which resulted in the now-famous “monkey selfie.”
Acting as Naruto’s legal representative (aka “next friend”), PETA has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. federal court in San Francisco against the owner of the camera, photographer David J. Slater, and his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd., both of which claim copyright ownership of the photos that Naruto took. Also named as a defendant is the San Francisco–based publishing company Blurb, Inc., which published a collection of Slater’s photographs, including two selfies taken by Naruto.
The lawsuit seeks to have Naruto declared the “author” and owner of his photograph. U.S. copyright law doesn’t prohibit an animal from owning a copyright, and since Naruto took the photo, he should own the copyright, as any human would.
If this lawsuit succeeds, it would be the first time that, instead of being considered a piece of property, a nonhuman animal is declared the owner of property (in this case, the copyright of the “monkey selfie”). It would also be the first time that a right is extended to a nonhuman animal beyond just the mere basic necessities of food, shelter, water, and veterinary care. It’s about time!
PETA is also asking the court to allow us to donate all the proceeds from sales of the “monkey selfie” for the benefit of Naruto and his community, without compensation to PETA.
Animals deserve to have appropriate rights of their own and should not be exploited by humans.