It seems the debate over the ownership of a monkey selfie has finally ended — a moment we never thought would come.
Image: David Slater (And Naruto)
The tale began in 2008, when photographer David Slater set up a camera with a remote trigger for a troop of Celebes crested macaques to play with — since the monkeys were nervous when he pulled out a camera for close-up shots. That was his story, but initial newspaper reports claimed a monkey grabbed his camera and started taking pictures. In 2011, after Slater licensed the photos to the Caters News Agency, TechDirt challenged the copyright claim, and posted the photo, since the true photographer was not a human and couldn't hold a copyright. Caters asked the tech blog to take down the image. A similar kerfuffle took place between Caters and Wikimedia.
In 2015, PETA sued Slater on behalf of the monkey, which the animal-rights organisation named Naruto, arguing that Naruto deserved the copyright. A year earlier the US Copyright Office had issued updated policies stating only humans can register copyrights, but a PETA lawyer argued that was only an opinion.
Finally that case has come to an end. Yesterday, attorneys for PETA and Slater said they have agreed to a settlement. Naruto will "get" a quarter of the royalties from the selfie. Well, really Slater will donate 25 per cent of the revenue of the image to charities protecting Naruto's habitat in Indonesia, on behalf of Naruto.
Slater and PETA released a joint statement, saying the case raised "important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for nonhuman animals, a goal that they both support".
When Matt Hughes at The Next Web asked Slater whether he had felt bullied, the photographer declined to comment, but said that "only good can come from this in terms of promoting fundamental [animal] rights". According to The Next Web, Slater is still upset with Wikimedia because it has not "backed down" from their stance that the photos are public domain.
Slater and PETA also asked the 9th US Circuit of Appeals to throw out a lower court decision claiming animals can't own copyrights. So perhaps the debate will continue the next time an animal selfie goes viral.