The Selfie Monkey case: the end?

The Monkey Selfie dispute, otherwise known as the case of the Black Macaque, is back for a final episode. As the parties have reached a settlement earlier this week, this episode marks the end of your favorite copyright saga. But you should not be too quick to celebrate the end of the 'Monkey Selfie buzz' as the settlement might not have actually settled anything... or has it? 

There is no shortage of press coverage on the topic; however, if you feel you need to refresh your memory see previous IPKat posts: here and here. Otherwise, just remember the following: the crux of the dispute lays in this deceptively simple question: who is the legal author of a selfie taken by a monkey with a camera left unattended by its owner? 

PETA, defending the Monkey's legal interest in the case, argued that the monkey herself should be the owner of the copyright in the photograph, being its true author. David Slater, the wildlife photographer and defendant in this dispute, contended that he owned the copyright in the 'selfie' since the photograph was the result of settings and adjustments on the camera he had made prior to its use by the monkey. Needless to say, the question sparked heated debates, going well beyond the mere application of copyright law. 

Naruto's selfie
On Monday this week, the parties filed a joint motion before the Ninth Circuit Court to dismiss the appeal and vacate the district court's judgement on the basis that they had reached a settlement. An official statement released by PETA confirms that parties have indeed agreed to settle and specifies that Slater will donate 25% of 'any future gross revenue that he derives from using or selling any or all of the monkey selfies to registered charities dedicated to protecting the welfare or habitat of Naruto and other crested macaques in Indonesia'. 

Yet, two things leave the door open to further litigation. For one, the case is 'being dismissed', and the parties' joint motion is yet to be accepted by the court. Second, the statement makes no mention of a reconciliation between the parties on who they regard to be the author of the photograph and owner of its copyright. You may think that Slater's agreement to donate 25% of the proceeds is a tell-tell sign that negotiations concluded to joint-authorship of unequal shares. This may be the case, but the following joint-statement by PETA and Slater suggests that the photographer's 25% donation is motivated by his commitment to furthering the legal protection of animals, not by his willingness to share ownership.

The joint-statement reads: 

fame-crazing Kats
'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. As we learn more about Naruto, his community of macaques, and all other animals, we must recognize 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. To further these goals, David Slater will donate 25% of future gross revenue from the Monkey Selfie photographs to charitable organizations dedicated to protecting and improving the welfare and habitat of Naruto and crested black macaques in Indonesia.' (here)

For these reasons, we cannot, with definitive certainty, rule out the possibility for the saga to be continued... 
The Selfie Monkey case: the end? The Selfie Monkey case: the end? Reviewed by Mathilde Pavis on Wednesday, September 13, 2017 Rating: 5


  1. Animals don't have human rights. Let's not get confused.

  2. Agreed: my understanding of UK law is that things are either persons or property, animals are definitely not persons (perhaps US law is different), and only persons, or organisations with legal personality, can own property. There was an article about this in a newspaper a few months ago where the photographer said he was fed up with being hounded with legal actions in the USA by animal rights organisations and how much it had cost him in defending himself. He wished he had never published the photograph and probably settled to get his life back.

  3. PETA clearly thinks otherwise...

    (just saying)

  4. Lets not get confused between "don't have human rights", and "don't have rights".

  5. Anonymous at 17:23,

    I do not understand the point that you are trying to make.

    What rights, other than human rights, does the law concern itself with?

    There is - to my knowledge - no version of law that subsists of rights OF chattel for chattel, and ALL law, and thus necessarily, all rights under law, are understood ONLY in view of rights of humans.

    Is your view different than that? Upon what grounding do these non-human rights arise?


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