May 11, 2019
This is actually somewhat old news, but I stumbled on it today, so what the heck.
Back in 2011, Naruto was just an anonymous macaque in the jungles of Indonesia. On one particular day, however, the photogenic primate happened upon a wildlife photographer’s camera and snapped a “monkey selfie.” Whether the act was intentional or a quite-too-literal instance of monkeying around, only the grinning primate knows for certain. But it raised a interesting legal question: Who owns the images Naruto took, the monkey or the man?
The man who owned the camera, David Slater, subsequently published a book that featured the picture (which I show at the bottom of this post). For reasons that I cannot explain, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed suit against Slater in federal court, alleging that Naruto’s copyright had been violated. The court dismissed the action (reasoning that Naruto was not a person and, therefore, had no standing to bring a lawsuit) and PETA appealed, but last year the appeals court affirmed.
All was not lost for PETA (or Naruto): Although he was under no legal obligation to do so, Slater nevertheless agreed to donate 25 percent of future revenue of Naruto’s images to the Tangkoko reserve.