Macaque selfie case settled with royalties deal

British photographer agrees to donate a quarter of future revenues to Indonesian wildlife charities

SULAWESI or CRESTED BLACK MACAQUE (Macaca nigra).  Sulawesi, Indonesia. David Slater / Cater News
SULAWESI or CRESTED BLACK MACAQUE (Macaca nigra). Sulawesi, Indonesia. David Slater / Cater News

The legal row over who exactly owns the copyright on a famous ‘selfie’ picture taken by a monkey has finally been resolved.

British nature photographer David Slater and lawyers acting for Naruto, a female crested macaque who took the photograph on Slater’s camera, reached a compromise deal after years of legal wrangling.

The photograph of the grinning primate was taken in 2011 while Mr Slater was on a week-long trip to Sulawesi, Indonesia. He had left one of his cameras unattended and Naruto apparently took the famous snap of herself and other monkeys.

“One of them must have accidentally knocked the camera and set it off because the sound caused a bit of a frenzy,” Mr Slater told the press in 2011.

“At first there was a lot of grimacing with their teeth showing because it was probably the first time they had ever seen a reflection. They were quite mischievous jumping all over my equipment, and it looked like they were already posing for the camera when one hit the button.”

The photograph quickly went viral, and Mr Slater obtained the copyright on the photos for his company Wildlife Personalities in Britain.

Controversy struck when the photographer asked the website Wikipedia to take down one of the pictures as they had not asked for permission to use it.

The online encyclopedia refused to do so, countering by saying that if anyone actually owned the copyright on the picture it was the monkey, not Mr Slater, who maintained that the British copyright on the images should apply worldwide.

Although the US Copyright Office ruled that an animal could not be considered the owner of copyright even of a ‘selfie’, the animal rights charity People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) became embroiled in the case, launching legal action against Mr Slater in 2015 on behalf of Naruto.

In legal proceedings in San Francisco that strained credulity at times, attorneys engaged in heated debate about issues of animal rights and identity. Despite the worldwide fame of the pictures, Mr Slater claimed he only made hundreds of pounds a year from them, and could ill afford the legal battle.

He even claimed at one point that the selfie of Naruto was actually of another, male macaque.

The deal reached on Monday will see the photographer donate a quarter of all future royalties to charities that are working to protect the monkeys in Indonesia.

“PETA and David Slater agree that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for non-human animals, a goal that they both support, and they will continue their respective work to achieve this goal,” Mr Slater and PETA said in a joint statement.

“We must recognise appropriate fundamental legal rights for them as our fellow global occupants and members of their own nations who want only to live their lives and be with their families.”

Jeff Kerr, who acted for PETA, said the “groundbreaking case sparked a massive international discussion about the need to extend fundamental rights to animals for their own sake, not in relation to how they can be exploited by humans".

Updated: September 12, 2017 07:44 PM


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