How Far Can PETA’s Monkey Selfie Lawsuit Go? 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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Who owns the copyright to this monkey? It’s currently in public domain with Wikimedia, but PETA claim the monkey should own the rights. (Wikimedia Commons/Naruto or David Slater)

PETA is suing a photographer, claiming that a monkey that took a selfie owns the rights to the photo. You might remember this selfie, as it was the subject of a huge Internet showdown last year between the photographer and Wikimedia Commons (with Wikimedia ultimately winning). Now, PETA says no one should be able to use the selfie without the monkey’s permission and they’re ready to take the case to court. If they win, this could put all sorts of other animal selfies, like those apps that let your cat take his own photo, at risk.

Here’s what you need to know.


1. The Monkey Took Its Own Selfie and Wikimedia Claimed the Photo Was Open Source

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Wikimedia Commons believes an animal can’t own the right to a selfie. (Wikimedia Commons)

The whole crazy mess started back in 2011, when nature photographer David Slater left his camera unattended in Indonesia, Time reported. A six-year-old macaque monkey wandered into the scene and snapped a photo of herself by pushing a button on the camera. The photo went viral. Slater explained to The Telegraph that the monkeys were being mischievous and they were jumping all over his camera. The monkeys had taken hundreds of photos, most of them blurry, by the time Slater got back his camera.

Wikimedia Commons then added the photo as part of its public domain repository. Slater sent Wikimedia a DMCA takedown notice, Motherboard reported, and Wikimedia declined because the money took the photo. If anyone owned the photo, Wikimedia explained, it was the monkey. However, monkeys can’t own copyrights so the photo was public domain. Slater threatened to sue, but the photo ended up staying in public domain. Slater, meanwhile, felt that is British copyright on the photo should be honored worldwide.


2. Now PETA Says the Monkey Should Hold the Copyright

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PETA is arguing that Naruto the monkey should own the selfie she took, (PETA)

PETA has taken the whole thing one step farther by suing the photographer, Slater. PETA says the monkey’s name is Naruto (no one is sure where that name came from) and Naruto should own the copyright to the photo. PETA filed the lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco, on behalf of Naruto, and seeks a court order to administer proceeds from the photo to benefit the monkey and other crested macaques living on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, ABC reported.

Slater said the lawsuit saddens him because he thinks of himself as an animal rights advocate, ABC News reported.

Among its points, PETA says in its complaint:

Naruto through the Next Friends is informed and believes, and thereon alleges, that, at all relevant times, Slater and Wildlife Personalities have, in this judicial district and elsewhere, repeatedly infringed on Naruto’s copyright in the Monkey Selfies”

That’s a lot of alleging for a little six-year-old monkey. You can read the entire complaint here.


3. The U.S. Copyright Office Says No Animal Can Own a Copyright

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So far, copyright law favors that animals can’t own selfies. (Flickr/Mike Seyfang)

The U.S. Copyright Office updated its policies last year, stating that it would only register copyrights for photos taken by humans. Photographs taken by animals, such as a monkey or a mural painted by an elephant, don’t qualify for copyright registration, ABC News reported. PETA has stated that it can still sue because that statement was only an opinion and not law. The PETA lawyer, Jeffrey Kerr, said:

The act grants copyright to authors of original works, with no limit on species.”


4. Could This Mean Your Pets Own Their Own Selfies Too?

Cat Snaps

Cat Snaps is an app that lets cats take their own selfies. (CatSnaps)

ABC News reported that this lawsuit is cutting edge for animal rights. A Michigan law professor, David Favre, said it’s a fair argument but a steep uphill legal battle.

This, of course, begs the question: what does this mean for hundreds of cats and dogs that take their own selfies? Many apps have been created that allow just that, such as Cat Snaps, pictured above. Cat Snaps sets up your phone or iPad so that a tantalizing dot or icon appears on the screen and when your cat bats at the icon, your mobile device snaps a selfie. If PETA’s lawsuit succeeds, does that mean our pets will someday own the copyrights to their own photos?

PETA may think so. On its website, PETA stated this is a hugely important lawsuit because if it succeeds:

 “…it will be the first time that a nonhuman animal is declared the owner of property (the copyright of the “monkey selfie”) , rather than being declared a piece of property…”


5. Meanwhile, People Online Are Pretty Amused By the Whole Thing

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The PETA Naruto lawsuit could change copyright law. (Flickr/Opensource.com)

While some people fear this is the degradation of copyright law, and others see this is a much needed change, people online aren’t taking this quite as seriously. Here are just a few examples.