A fight over who owns the rights to photos taken by an Indonesian monkey are about to take another twist with animal rights group PETA launching legal action asking a US court to declare the macaque as the copyright holder so it can get royalties.
The “monkey selfies” by Naruto, a 6-year-old macaque in Sulawesi were taken in 2011 by the animal using wildflife photographer David Slater’s camera. After they were published royalty-free on Wikimedia, a dispute broke out over who owns the images, with Slater, who published the image in his book Wildlife Personalities, claiming he was the rightful owner, as he created the situation that led to the monkey pressing the shutter.
The subsequent legal battles led the US Copyright Office to changes its rules so that only a human can be a rights holder. The UK takes a similar view.
But that hasn’t perturbed PETA, which has filed its lawsuit in the US federal court in San Francisco against Slater, his company and the publisher of the book featuring the selfies, seeking to have Naruto declared “author” and owner of the photographs. The animal rights organisation takes the view that the Copyright Office ruling is an opinion only.
PETA is seeking monetary damages, and injunction banning the sale and/or publication of the photos. PETA also wants permission to manage the copyright, license the photos for commercial use, and use the proceeds for the benefit of Naruto and his troop in Sulawesi national park.
The organisation and macaque expert Dr Antje Engelhardt, who has studied the macaque troop, are acting as “next friend” to Naruto in the case.
PETA lawyer Jeffrey Kerr said if they win, it would be a first for animal rights.
“If we prevail in this lawsuit, it will be the first time that a nonhuman animal is declared the owner of property, rather than being declared a piece of property himself or herself,” he said.
Naruto has yet to comment.
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