copyright law; seflie monkey; crazy legal battle; PETA; animal rights

Legal battle by PETA over selfie photo taken by a monkey.

Selfie Monkey Case Gets Stranger

Just when you think the world can’t get any stranger than it already is, you learn about a case of a monkey engaged in a lawsuit of copyright of a selfie that it took. We’ll get into that, but don’t think the strangeness stops there. It gets quite a bit weirder than that.

Say Cheese

In 2011, a photographer named David Slater was faced with a lawsuit filed by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) on behalf of a monkey named Naruto. You see, Naruto picked up Slater’s camera and took several selfies with it. Slater published the pictures, which then went viral. After all, who doesn’t want to see a monkey’s selfie?
Of course, PETA believes that since the monkey took the selfie, it should be the legal copyright owner and not Slater. They filed as “next friends” since the macaque who lives in Indonesia was unable to file on its own. Of course, we must wonder if the monkey even knows what copyright and the legal system are. In some world, this probably makes sense to people. However, things got weirder not too long after PETA filed their suit.
The legal fight then included a debate over the gender and identity of the monkey in the picture. Now, Slater’s attorneys argue that PETA can’t prove the identity of the monkey in the photos and they wanted to have the case thrown out. In the book that contains the photos, Slaters says the monkey is a female and Naruto is a male. He also says that PETA has previously and erroneously referred to the monkey as female. Therefore, they believe that PETA doesn’t have any proof they are talking about the same monkey in the photo.
Now, you might be wondering how a case could get this far along and get this strange. According to copyright law in the United States, the photos need to be the “product of human authorship.” While some might feel that PETA believes that monkeys, and perhaps other animals, should have the same rights under the laws as humans, many others believe that it is merely a publicity stunt to get more attention for their cause.
In their suit, they are suing for “all proceeds from the sale, licensing, and other commercial uses of the Monkey Selfies to put the money toward conservation.” If they were merely suing for promotion, then they did a fine job, as this case keeps coming up.
PETA has a history of creating some rather strange lawsuits, including some that are just as odd as the monkey selfie suit. In 2015, for example, they opened a suit in NY state trying to get the identity of three commenters on Huffington Post that said mean things about the organization on one of their posts. They wanted the true identities of the people who made the comments so they can launch separate suits against each of them. PETA is the weird lawsuit gift that keeps on giving.