PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has agreed to settle its lawsuit with British photographer David J. Slater. The two parties have agreed to a settlement where Naruto, a crested macaque, is entitled to 25-percent of future royalties from his selfie. Lacking a bank account – or even any concept of money- the money won’t be paid directly to Naruto. Instead, the settlement determined that proceeds should go to charities working to protect the crested macaques in Indonesia. Amazingly enough last year a federal judge ruled against PETA’s suit, saying the monkey lacked the right to sue because there was no indication that Congress intended to extend copyright protection to animals. But PETA decided to pursue the case and appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. In reaching the settlement they agreed to drop the lawsuit.
Clearly, Slater was bullied into accepting this settlement. PETA, as an organization, commands massive wealth – revenues of nearly $43 million during the 2015 financial year – while Slater is stone broke and was even consider walking dogs to supplement his meager earnings as a photographer.
In 2011, British nature photographer David Slater made headlines for releasing a photo of a selfie taken by a black macaque. He could never have predicted the controversy he was sparking—that he was on the brink of a long-standing legal battle over whether it was the monkey who legally held the copyright to the photo. Naruto had pressed the unattended camera and snapped the photo himself.
Slater was taking photos of endangered crested black macaques in Sulawesi, Indonesia when one of them hijacked his camera and snapped a group of selfies. Later, some of the photos went viral and were published on Wikimedia Commons under public domain. When Slater asked Wikimedia to take the photos down, they refused, claiming the monkey was the true owner of the copyright.
In an interview with The Guardian, Slater detailed the patience it took to capture such a photograph. He believed the image would be his big break, but sadly, he’s been left broke.
Slater’s problems only escalated from there. In 2015, PETA decided to sue Slater as well, claiming that the monkey should own the copyright to the image. The group requested permission to administer the proceeds for the benefit of the monkey and his friends.
In response, the Copyright Office released a document establishing new policies stating that “The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants.”
Later, a court ruled in Slater’s favor, saying that the monkey can’t own the copyright. But that wasn’t enough for PETA, who appealed the decision and continued on with the case.
PETA lawyer Jeffrey Kerr insists that the policy “is only an opinion” and that the U.S. Copyright Act does not limit copyrights to humans.
“The act grants copyright to authors of original works, with no limit on species,” he argues. “Copyright law is clear: It’s not the person who owns the camera, it’s the being who took the photograph.”
PETA’s lawsuit takes that a step further, arguing the monkey “authored the monkey selfies by his own independent, autonomous actions in examining and manipulating Slater’s unattended camera.”