Monkey Selfie Case Settlement a Big Win for Monkeys

September 12, 2017 Updated: September 12, 2017

A copyright fight over a notorious selfie taken by a monkey in Indonesia after it stole a photographer’s camera has finally concluded.

PETA and David Slater came to an agreement in a settlement. Slater must donate twenty-five percent of any revenue from the use or sale of the selfie to charities working to preserve the habitat of this critically endangered Old World monkey species.

The 7-year-old crested macaque in question took the camera of photographer David Slater and snapped some selfies, one of which went viral, CNN reported. Slater requested that the viral selfie be taken off of Wikipedia, but Wikipedia claimed he didn’t own the copyright. PETA concurred.

The monkey is known as Naruto, although there is some dispute on its identity. Slater’s website claims that monkey is actually another by the name of Ella. Slater put the selfie on the cover of a book he published using Blurb called “Wildlife Personalities.”

According to Slater’s photography website, he set up his camera in a habitat of crested macaques on Sulawesi island in Indonesia. He planned to spend three days closely following the monkeys. By the second day the monkeys were familiar with him and not afraid to approach him. They were also coming up to his camera equipment and playing with it. They may not have known what a selfie was, but they enjoyed looking into their reflections in the big camera lens, and making faces while hitting camera controls.

The fun times resulted in some hilarious photographs, along with the legal trouble Slater had with trying to claim ownership over the images later. It also brought a lot more attention to this species of monkey. Slater states via his website that there is a good side to the growing awareness, but he warns people to heed the necessity of maintaining proper distance from wild animals.

Crested macaques continue to face threats to their habitats and population numbers. In Indonesia the monkey is hunted for its meat and also kept as a pet, National Geographic reported. Its living environment is also shrinking away due to natural and man-made fires, as well as human development. Government poaching regulations have not been rigorously enforced.

PETA got involved with the fight, using the case as a forum to test animal rights. Ultimately the outcome was supported by Slater, and he agrees that the legal rights of animals should be expanded on.

The trouble began when he found the famous photo posted to Wikipedia, and asked that it be taken down because he owned the copyright. But Wikipedia claimed that since the monkey took the photo, he doesn’t own the copyright. PETA decided to sue in 2015, in favor of the copyright going to the monkey, according to the CNN report.

A provisional ruling in 2016 sided with Slater, agreeing that copyright law does not apply to animals. But PETA pushed the case further, eventually leading to the settlement. PETA’s aims were beyond just clarifying if animals can have copyrights, they want to establish broader legal rights of animals in general.

“Naruto’s case went all the way to a federal appeals court and shows that the struggle for animal rights is ingrained in our legal system. We’ll continue working in the courts to establish legal rights for animals. Everyone deserves the rights we hold dear: to live as they choose, to be with their families, to be free from abuse and suffering, and to benefit from their own creations,” reads a statement by PETA on the outcome of the case.