SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — A macaque monkey who took now-famous selfie photographs should be declared the copyright owner of the photos, rather than the nature photographer who positioned the camera, animal-rights activists contend in a novel lawsuit.
The suit was filed Tuesday in federal court in San Francisco by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It seeks a court order allowing PETA to administer all proceeds from the photos for the benefit of the monkey, which it identified as 6-year-old Naruto, and other crested macaques living in a reserve on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
The dispute began when Wikimedia Commons posted the self-portraits and the photographer asked the non-profit, free content website to remove them.
British nature photographer David Slater said he took the photos during a 2011 trip to Salawesi. He was taking pictures of the monkeys when one of them hijacked his camera and took hundreds of selfies. The monkey known as ‘Naruto’ looks like he was smiling in one of them.
Slater claims the British copyright obtained for the photos by his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd., should be honored worldwide.
Wikimedia rejected Slater’s request on the grounds that the monkey pressed the shutter and therefore owns the copyright of the image.
“I’ve told them it’s not public domain, they’ve got no right to say that it’s public domain. A monkey pressed the button, but I did all the setting up,” said Slater, according to the National Post.
Legal expert Andrew Bridges told CBS MoneyWatch said Slater isn’t the copyright owner because he didn’t have artistic control. “Copyright requires original creative expression of a work,” Bridges said.
Last year, the U.S. Copyright Office updated it’s policy on works produced by human beings stipulating that works by animals do not qualify.
It is uncertain how federal court will interpret the language policy as it applies to PETA’s case filed Tuesday on behalf of the macaque monkey.
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