In 2011, a crested black macaque monkey took a selfie with a British photographer’s camera in Sulawesi, Indonesia. The amazing photo went viral and made the rounds on social media. The photographer, David Slater, published the photo in a book called “Wildlife Personalities” in 2014. That would have been the end of the story, but People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals intervened, bringing a case against Slater.
According to SF Gate, the organization named the monkey “Naruto,” and said that the monkey should have legal ownership of his own creative work. It claimed that the monkey “shouldn’t be treated any differently than any other photographer just because he doesn’t happen to be human.”
On Monday, the 9th Circuit ruled that the Copyright Act does not apply to Naruto. Judge Carlos Bea determined that the Act “does not expressly authorize animals to file copyright infringement suits.” The judge also took a moment to criticize PETA, saying that it “seems to employ Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals.” He also said that the ruling that allowed PETA to file a suit on behalf of the monkey ought to be reconsidered and overturned.
But even before the ruling, Naruto had made a big impact on his species. Back in September, PETA and Slater had reached a settlement, when Slater agreed to donate 25 percent of future revenue generated by the selfie towards charities that help crested macaques in Indonesia.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Naruto the monkey today, holding that he lacked standing to bring a claim under the #Copyright Act. Fitch Even partner Allen Hoover reports. https://t.co/MINKP40ntr pic.twitter.com/g4MVRfUMS8— Fitch Even (@fitcheven) April 23, 2018
Crested macaque monkeys live on an Indonesian island and are facing increasingly difficult conditions as they struggle to survive. A primatologist named Antje Engelhardt has been studying the crested macaques for over 10 years and can pick out Naruto from a crowd of monkeys. The main threats to the species are a loss of habitat and the human predators that hunt them for their meat. Unfortunately for the crested macaques, locals have been eating them for centuries. There are even dealers that employ up to a hundred hunters that kill the monkeys, according to the National Geographic. Other monkeys are captured and used as pets or captured by farmers for pest control purposes.
Also referred to as “yakis,” they live in groups of around 80 monkeys and are very territorial. However, land takeovers don’t usually involve deaths, and a researcher named Maura Tyrrell noted that “fights usually are quick and more theatrical than injurious.”
Hopefully, the charity money that Slater will donate will help to conserve the yakis and their habitat. Naruto doesn’t have the rights to the copyright of the photo he took, but at the least, he’s made an impact on his species.