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‘Monkey Selfie’ Case May Set New Legal Precedent
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PETA has filed a lawsuit against a photographer, alleging that a photograph a macaque snapped should be its own property.

Summary: PETA has filed a lawsuit arguing that animals can own intellectual property rights.

You may recall the story of the “monkey selfie” from a few years ago: a photographer, while visiting Indonesia, left his camera unattended. A sneaky male crested black macaque named Naruto took a few photos of himself, even smiling for the camera!


According to, Naruto is well known to researchers in Sulawesi, who have followed his behavior for years. Now PETA, acting as Naruto’s “next friend” (or rather, representative), has filed a suit in federal court in San Francisco against photographer David J. Slater and his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd. Slater and his company claim copyright ownership of Naruto’s selfies.

Earlier this year, a court ruled that chimps are not “legal persons.”

Recalling his experience with the macaques in Indonesia, Slater said, “I walked with them for about three days in a row. They befriended us and showed absolutely no aggression—they were just interested in the things I was carrying.”

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Switzerland denied free legal representation to animals.

Blurb, Inc., a San Francisco-based publishing company, has also been named as a defendant in the suit since it published a collection of Slater’s photos, including Naruto’s selfies.

Should Naruto be the owner of the photos?

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The suit alleges that Naruto should be declared both the author and owner of the photos. PETA argues that copyright law allows animals to own intellectual property; therefore, Naruto owns the copyright to his photos.

Slater claims the ordeal has not been easy for him. According to Telegraph, he says, “This is ruining my business. If it was a normal photograph and I had claimed I had taken it, I would potentially be a lot richer than I am.”

Last year, a court ruled that an orangutan could be freed from a Buenos Aires zoo.

Should PETA’s suit succeed, it will be the first time an animal is declared the owner of some sort of property. Additionally, it would be the first time that an animal receives a right beyond food, water, shelter, and care.

In addition to asking for intellectual property rights, PETA also asked the court to provide the proceeds of any sales to Naruto and his community, with no compensation to PETA.


Other sources: The Washington Post

Photo credit: PETA


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