Groundbreaking Lawsuit Claims Monkey Selfie Copyright Belongs To Monkey

22 September 2015

PETA US Seeks First-Ever Property Ownership for a Non-Human Primate

London – The US Copyright Act grants copyright ownership of a “selfie” to the “author” of the photograph – and there’s nothing in the law that limits such ownership on the basis of species. That’s why PETA US filed a lawsuit this morning asking the US federal court in San Francisco to declare Naruto – a 6-year-old free male crested macaque living in Indonesia – as the author and owner of the internationally famous “monkey selfie” photographs that he took sometime in or around 2011.

The defendants in the lawsuit are professional British wildlife photographer David J Slater and his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd, who both claim copyright ownership of the photographs that Naruto indisputably 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 of the selfies authored by Naruto.

The complaint seeks monetary damages as well as an injunction barring the sale or publication of the photographs. PETA US, as “next friend” to Naruto, seeks the court’s permission to manage the copyright in the photos, to license them for commercial use, and to use 100 per cent of the proceeds for the benefit of Naruto and his community, without compensation.

“If PETA US prevails in this lawsuit, it will be the first time that a non-human animal is declared the owner of property, rather than being declared a piece of property himself or herself”, says PETA Director Mimi Bekhechi. “Such a decision by the court would demonstrate what PETA US has championed for 35 years, which is that animal rights should be recognised for the sake of animals – and not in relation to their exploitation by humans.”

In addition to PETA US, renowned macaque expert Antje Engelhardt, PhD, who has worked to study and protect Naruto and his community for years, will serve as a “next friend” representing Naruto’s interests in court.

Highly intelligent crested macaques – who, like humans, are vision-dominant, possess advanced reasoning abilities and delicately and purposefully manipulate objects with their hands – are critically endangered. Their numbers have decreased by approximately 90 per cent over the last 25 years as a result of human encroachment, being killed by humans in retribution for foraging on crops, and being trapped and slaughtered for meat.

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