Here’s why PETA filed a lawsuit on behalf of a selfie-taking monkey

September 23, 2015, 4:57 PM UTC
A Celebes crested macaque (Macaca nigra), also called
A Celebes crested macaque (Macaca nigra), also called Sulawesi crested macaque, the local name Yaki or monkey that is endemic to the Black Sulawesi North Sulawesi seen in Tangkoko Nature Reserve which is a conservation area for some wildlife in North Sulawesi. The animals in the status of Critically Endangered (IUCN 3.1).
Photograph by Getty Images

PETA recently filed a lawsuit arguing that a monkey who took a selfie should legally be considered the owner of his photo, Reuters reports.

The animal rights activist group is referring specifically to Naruto, a six-year-old rare crested macaque who lives on the Tangkoko Reserve in Indonesia. David Slater, a British wildlife photographer, had left one of his cameras unattended while at the site. Naruto took advantage of the opportunity and wound up taking a selfie, which has since gone viral online.

The complaint, which was filed in a U.S. District Court in San Francisco, specifically targets Slater and his company, Wildlife Personalities, as well as Blurb Inc., a Delaware-based corporation that published and sold a book containing Naruto’s pictures. The complaint states that the selfies were a result of “a series of purposeful and voluntary actions by Naruto, unaided by Slater,” adding that “Naruto has the right to own and benefit from the copyright . . . in the same manner and to the same extent as any other author.”

In most cases, the copyright on a photograph belongs to whoever pressed the camera’s shutter. However, there’s some argument over whether or not the shutter-clicker in this instance — again, a monkey — can be entitled to a copyright.

Slater wrote in an email to Reuters:

I am sympathetic in my book for animals having rights to property in some circumstances, but in no way do I mean copyrights. Their focus seems more aimed at making me out to be a criminal than someone who loves and respects and fights for animals.

Slater, who describes himself as a wildlife photographer that struggles to earn a living, also expressed his disappointment that he was not contacted by PETA in advance.

This is quite an active time for PETA in the courtroom. The group also just filed a lawsuit against Whole Foods accusing the company of deceiving customers about its animal welfare standards.

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