Groundbreaking Lawsuit Claims Monkey Selfie Copyright Belongs to Monkey

PETA Seeks First-Ever Property Ownership for a Nonhuman Primate

For Immediate Release:
September 22, 2015

David Perle 202-483-7382

San Francisco – The U.S. Copyright Act grants copyright ownership of a “selfie” to the “author” of the photograph—and there’s nothing in the law that limits such ownership on the basis of species. That’s why PETA filed a lawsuit this morning asking the U.S. federal court in San Francisco to declare Naruto—a free 6-year-old male crested macaque living in Indonesia—the author and owner of the internationally famous monkey selfie photographs that he took sometime before 2011.

The defendants in the lawsuit are professional wildlife photographer David J. Slater and his company (Wildlife Personalities Ltd.), and both claim copyright ownership of the photographs that Naruto indisputably took. Also named as a defendant is the San Francisco–based publishing company Blurb, Inc., which published a collection of Slater’s photographs, including two of the selfies authored by Naruto.

The complaint seeks monetary damages as well as an injunction banning the sale or publication of the photographs. PETA, as “next friend” to Naruto, seeks the court’s permission to manage the copyright in the photos, license them for commercial use, and use 100 percent of the proceeds for the benefit of Naruto and his community, without compensation to PETA.

“If we prevail in this lawsuit, it will be the first time that a nonhuman animal is declared the owner of property, rather than being declared a piece of property himself or herself,” says general counsel to PETA Jeffrey Kerr. “Such a decision by the court would demonstrate what PETA has championed for 35 years, which is that animals’ rights should be recognized for the animals’ sake and not in relation to their exploitation by humans.”

In addition to PETA, renowned macaque expert Antje Engelhardt, Ph.D., who has worked to study and protect Naruto and his community for years, will serve as a “next friend” representing his interests in court.

Highly intelligent crested macaques—who, like humans, are vision-dominant, possess advanced reasoning abilities, and delicately and purposefully manipulate objects with their hands—are critically endangered. Their numbers have decreased by approximately 90 percent over the last 25 years as the result of human encroachment, being killed by humans in retribution for eating crops, and being trapped and slaughtered for meat.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind