If a monkey takes a selfie with your camera, who owns the photo? British wildlife photographer David Slater has been embroiled in this bizarre debate for the last few years and now animal rights group PETA has stepped in. It is going to court (pdf) to try to give a monkey copyright to the famous smiling selfie he took.
The monkey in question is Naruto, a six-year-old macaque who lives in Sulawesi, Indonesia. He took a series of photos when Slater left his camera equipment unattended in 2011. Slater insists he owns the copyright to the photos as he set the whole thing up so the monkeys could press the button. Others disagree.
Wikipedia hosted the image, which quickly went viral, and refused to take it down, claiming that no-one owns rights to the photo as it was taken by an animal and not a human. The US Copyright Office agreed—it updated its policies last year and would only register copyrights for works produced by human beings.
The lawsuit names Slater and self-publishing company Blurb, who published a book called Wildlife Personalities that contained Naruto’s selfies, which PETA argues entitles the monkey to damages. They want all proceeds from the photos to be spent on Naruto, his family, and community.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Slater is “very saddened” by the lawsuit as he considers himself an animal lover.
PETA hopes to make history and set a legal precedent with the lawsuit. “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,” PETA general counsel Jeffrey Kerr said in a statement.
This isn’t even the first debate about the rights of monkeys this year. For a few hours in April, two chimpanzees were recognized as legal persons in New York.