A Photographer Is Being Sued by a Monkey Over a Copyright Dispute

A Photographer Is Being Sued by a Monkey Over a Copyright Dispute

A photographer has claimed he is ready to retire due to his dire financial situation after a multiple year-long legal battle over the copyright surrounding images taken by monkeys on his camera.

The debacle began back in 2011, when photographer David Slater traveled to Indonesia and photographed a group of macaques. According to the Guardian, the photos are a result of “[Slater’s] ingenuity in coaxing the monkeys into pressing the shutter while looking into the lens, after he struggled to get them to keep their eyes open for a wide-angle close-up.”

Copyright David Slater

They were quite mischievous, jumping all over my equipment. One hit the button. The sound got his attention and he kept pressing it. At first it scared the rest of them away but they soon came back — it was amazing to watch.

The issue has recently been debated in a U.S. court, with a cash-strapped Slater watching via a live stream from his home in Wales, U.K.

Blogs and sites such as Techdirt and Wikipedia have refused to stop using the image without Slater’s approval, with the latter claiming it wasn’t possible to copyright the image because the monkey was technically the creator of it.

Copyright David Slater

This is where things get really crazy. Back in 2015, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a suit against Slater on behalf of the macaque; their reasoning being that the monkey was the copyright holder. By 2016, a judge had ruled against PETA, on the grounds that the Copyright Act doesn’t extend to animals. PETA appealed to the ninth circuit court of appeals, which heard further debates last week. They were left to debate the following:

  • Whether PETA has a close enough relationship to Naruto (the monkey in the images) to represent it in court.
  • The value of providing written notice of a copyright claim to a community of macaques.
  • Whether Naruto is actually harmed by not being recognized as a copyright-holder.

Is this a waste of the court’s time, or are those involved simply respecting copyright laws?

All images copyright, and used with the permission of, David Slater.

[via Guardian]

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23 Comments

Aneesh Kothari's picture

What a crazy story. Ridiculous that Slater has had to go through all of this. By the way, I think you mean "Copyright Naruto the Monkey" for your captions :-)

Kawika Lopez's picture

Man, I should really track down those humpback wales I shot this past winter to get a them to sign my model release form.

jonas y's picture

Peta is quite interesting, after all the kill shelter scandals and now this.

Jonathan Reid's picture

Whenever there is a bizarre law situation, the person who gets screwed over is the photographer.

Really the title should be "Peta is being Petty" because that's what they do :P

Britton Murray's picture

Did he not retouch the images at all before posting? Retouching (in some bit of a meaningful way) would have given him copyright in the retouched images. Feel terrible for the guy, though -- this is all so inane.

Jason Friedman's picture

As a strict vegan who supports animal rights, I find no exploitation of the monkeys in this situation. Judging by their expressions, it looks like they are enjoying their selfies. As a photographer, I think Slater should get paid for the images. Yes they are "selfies" however the equipment and the expertise is still provided by an experienced photographer, without whom, these images would never be captured in the first place.

George Falls's picture

They are not 'smiling'. They show their teeth when they are nervous or scared.

It was work for hire

I feel for the guy...

He is broke because he chose to fight a loosing case. A good lawyer would have told him that the copyright laws were not in his favor.

If he had placed his camera with a remote control, then he probably would have been okay or he could have at least lied about it. He could have said he triggered the camera which then would have passed the litmus test.

fuckin PETA. good thing it wasn't a russian monkey.

Marc DeGeorge's picture

So, using PETA's logic, if you set up a session, where you wanted to make some "selfie" like shots and the model actually pressed the shutter button, then they would own the copyright of the image, not the photographer, who concepted, organized and executed the shot. Go figure.

Only if she was just monkeying around with the camera, Marc.

Gives a whole new meaning to the term "monkey business."

david squire's picture

Is this article just, "monkey business"? hahaha.. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

So if PETA is correct and the monkey has rights to the copyright, then the monkey could also be sued if it had damaged the camera??? I don't think so.

Aleksey Leonov's picture

One thing I don't understand, that is not discussed in article.
If photographer plan and setting up the shot, that usually means most of work. And then just ask some one to release a shutter button. So all the copy right belongs to the person, who made a button press?
I believe, even in this case, photographer made some planing and setting up, especially knowing how hard to work with animals. Monkey would never done this shot by it self!

Robert Nurse's picture

In short, the users and abusers of this photographer's work are getting a huge pass here. This is a classic case of dumbassery if ever I've seen one. Does PETA have nothing else to do? Come on! The photographer set the whole thing up. PAY HIM!

Jon Winkleman's picture

Shame on PETA. First they cannot present the individual simile who pressed the shutter. When a photographer takes a picture, his community does not have claim to the copyright only the individual creator. Secondly the monkey did not know or intend to create an image. The photographer saw the monkeys fascinated by the sound of pressing the shutter so he set up and manipulated the situation so one of the monkeys would press the shutter while the lens was pointed at it's face and it's eyes were open. The photographer intentionally set up and created the image even if his finger was not on the shutter button.

PETA does not care about copyright or the usage of the photograph. They also do not care if this community of monkeys receives stock photo fees for the image. PETA has long been looking for test cases to establish the legal personhood of animals. They do not care if they destroy the life of someone who does not abuse animals and was more of a friend to this group of monkeys than they were.

Kirk Darling's picture

While PETA's involvement is inane, Slater's real problem is with the US federal court that ruled he could not copyright the image because he did not snap the shutter. That issue should have been appealed officially rather than Slater merely pretending he continued to own the copyright. And it was a dangerous ruling. Right off hand, that ruling invalidates the copyrights of hundreds of nature photographs and films owned by, for instance, National Geographic and Disney. All of Disney's Buena Vista nature films of the 50s are now--according to that ruling--public domain.

Dennis Qualls's picture

From PETA's own website:
"Proceeds from a successful claim would solely benefit Naruto and his community."

Sounds like the macaque would benefit more from the money PETA invested in the pursuit of this lawsuit, than they'd end up with in a successful lawsuit.

Chris Rakoczy's picture

This is absurd. The litmus test for eligibility for copyright protection should include "intent to create". The monkey has no awareness of what its doing with a camera and had no conscious intention of creating a work "fixed in a tangible medium of expression". Bytheir rationale, deer setting off game trail "camera traps" are exclusive owners of copyright in those images.

If by their rationale the monkey is eligible for copyright protection, then too the monkey is able to execute a transfer of copyright with just as much conscious intent as he made the picture, simply by having the photographer hold enough transfer documents and ball point pens in front of him and waiting for him to sign one. If this doesnt illustrate how asinine ths whole fiasco is, I dont know what would.

Infinite monkeys, infinite typewriters?

Surely PETA has more important things to do with their money?!?!