A Man And A Monkey Are In A Court Battle Over A Selfie

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Forget about “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

A real life battle between monkey and man is unfolding in San Francisco. The case centers on a selfie taken by a crested macaque named Naruto. Here’s how the dispute unfolded:

In 2011, wildlife photographer David Slater approached a group of macaques, a genus of Old World monkeys. When he couldn’t capture a good photo of the playful primates, he improvised. Slater mounted his camera on a tripod and let the monkeys investigate it. They ended up pressing the capture button hundreds of times, snapping several perfectly framed selfies.

Washington Post

Slater published these once-in-a-lifetime photos in a book called Wildlife Personalities. Shortly after the publication, the photos appeared on Wikipedia.

Slater asked Wikipedia to stop using the photos without his permission. The online encyclopedia replied that there was no copyright for the photos because the creator was a monkey.

The photos became a viral sensation, but Slater didn’t receive any money from the use of his photos online.

Slater explained his plight to The Guardian saying, “Every photographer dreams of a photograph like this. If everybody gave me a pound for every time they used [the photograph], I’d probably have £40m in my pocket. The proceeds from these photographs should have me comfortable now, and I’m not.”


In fact, Slater can’t even afford to fix his camera or fly to the trial in which a monkey is suing him. The 46-year-old says he’s considering becoming a tennis coach or a dog walker.

Meanwhile, Naruto lives comfortably on an island reserve in Indonesia and is blissfully unaware of the legal dispute.

Even so, PETA has sued Slater for copyright infringement on Naruto’s behalf. PETA’s non-existent relationship to the macaque is a major sticking point in the case. The judges asked PETA’s lawyers why they have the standing to represent Naruto.

PETA’s general counsel, Jeff Kerr, told Time, “PETA is clearly representing Naruto’s best interests.” He added that the group plans to use any proceeds to protect monkey habitats around the world.

New Yorker

If Naruto wins the case, more questions will arise.

The judges asked what would happen to the copyright when Naruto dies. Determining the next-of-kin for a monkey that lived 7,000 miles away would be a difficult task.

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Another sticking point could occur if Slater’s lawyers prove that Naruto didn’t take the photo. Slater believes that a different macaque is the real selfie monkey.

Court Case and Viral Photo Helped Bring Awareness to Plight of Macaques

One good thing to come from the monkey-selfie dispute is greater awareness about Celebes crested macaques. Locals hunt the monkey for meat and to prevent them from damaging crops. Now, Celebes crested macaques are critically endangered.


Slater said, “These animals were on the way out and because of one photograph, it’s hopefully going to create enough ecotourism to make the locals realize that there’s a good reason to keep these monkeys alive. The picture hopefully contributed to saving the species. That was the original intention all along.”

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