The Monkey Selfie Lawsuit is Finally Over!

In 2009 Photographer David Slater spent three days photographing crested black macaque monkeys in an Indonesian national park. Monkeys are curious, and as a few of them approached him and started to poke around him he stepped away from his Canon 5D and one of the monkeys, a macaque named Naruto picked him David's remote shutter trigger and took a bunch of pictures, some even including David. 

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David didn't even realize how many pictures were taken until he got home and found over one hundred images taken by Naruto. In 2011 he published a selfie Naruto took and the image quickly went viral... and that's when his problems started. PETA, the animal rights group filed a lawsuit against David in 2015.

Why? They didn't like that David was profiting off a photo he didn't take. Even though it was his camera, PETA argued that the copyright of the images should officially be assigned to the 6-year-old monkey. This is crazy right? A monkey is not a person. They can't legally own anything. However, PETA pushed forward with its lawsuit even though every stop along the way the US legal system and government both argued against PETA's claim: the US Copyright Office stated it couldn't register the works of monkeys in 2014, and a judge ruled that the monkey couldn't own a copyright in 2016.

Yet PETA persisted and pushed forward with its legal battle against Slater, who revealed earlier this year that the lawsuit had driven him to financial ruin. To quote Slater from an article in the Guardian:

Every photographer dreams of a photograph like this," Slater tells The Guardian. "If everybody gave me a pound for every time they used [the photograph], I'd probably have £40m [~$52 million] in my pocket. The proceeds from these photographs should have me comfortable now, and I'm not.

PETA and David Slater announced a settlement recently in a joint statement to put an end to all this drama. 

PETA; photographer David Slater; his company, Wildlife Personalities, Ltd.; and self-publishing platform Blurb, Inc., have reached a settlement of the "monkey selfie" litigation. As a part of the arrangement, Slater has agreed to donate 25 percent of any future revenue derived from using or selling the monkey selfies to charities that protect the habitat of Naruto and other crested macaques in Indonesia."PETA and David Slater agree that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for nonhuman animals, a goal that they both support, and they will continue their respective work to achieve this goal."

This is a slippery slope and I wonder if suing was necessary at all. It's David's camera, but he didn't take the picture and wouldn't donating 25% of the profit of the photo be the right thing to do? It's a once in a lifetime photograph that could benefit everyone. It's a shame that it had to come down to a lawsuit. I hope in the future both organizations like PETA and photographers can meet and discuss an arrangement like civilized human beings. If there's a lesson here, make sure you're the one pushing the button on that camera.