People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is ruining British photographer David Slater’s life.
Six years ago, after spending time encouraging a crested black macaque named Naruto to use a camera to take photographs of itself, Slater hit paydirt. Naruto took two spectacular “selfies” and the photos quickly went viral.
But then Wikimedia Commons posted the photos, claiming they were royalty-free images. Slater demanded the website pay for the photos or take them down. Wikimedia Commons refused, taking the position that the photos were not Slater’s property because the monkey pressed the camera’s shutter on its own.
“I made £2,000 [for that picture] in the first year after it was taken,” he told the BBC in 2014. “After it went on Wikipedia all interest in buying it went. It’s hard to put a figure on it but I reckon I’ve lost £10,000 or more in income. It’s killing my business.”
Then the whackjobs at PETA sued, claiming Naruto should receive all profits related to the photos. A court disagreed, ruling that the monkey had no property interest in the photos.
As Lindsay Dodgson writes at Business Insider, the ruling still didn’t help Slater because “there was legally no copyright licence on the photographs at all, and the pictures remain in the public domain.”
PETA appealed the court decision in 2016 to the notoriously wacky U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, claiming Naruto should be deemed author of the photos “in every practical (and definitional) sense.” The Circuit Court heard oral arguments in the case a few days ago.
“Had the monkey selfies been made by a human using Slater’s unattended camera, that human would undisputedly be declared the author and copyright owner of the photographs,” PETA said in court papers. “Nothing in the Copyright Act limits its application to human authors… protection under the Copyright Act does not depend on the humanity of the author, but on the originality of the work itself.”
Standing to sue is obviously a huge legal issue here.
As Dodgson writes,
The rights of contention in this case range from the complicated to the downright bizarre. The court must decide whether Peta has a close enough relationship with Naruto to represent him in court, what the value would be to provide a community of macaques with a written notice of copyright, and whether Naruto is actually losing out by not being the formal copyright-holder.
“There’s no case that suggests that the copyright infringement itself is injury,” said Judge N Randy Smith. “What’s your injury? There’s no way to acquire or hold some money, which the copyright would give. There’s no loss as to reputation. There’s not even any allegation that the copyright could have benefited somehow Naruto.”
There’s also the question over whether Peta has identified the correct monkey. Slater claims the macaque in the photograph is a female, and it a completely different age to the six-year-old Naruto Peta is representing.
“I’m bewildered at the American court system,” Slater told the Guardian. “Surely it matters that the right monkey is suing me.”
Slater didn’t have the money to attend the appellate hearing. His personal wealth has been eaten up by legal fees. He’s even thinking of quitting the photography business altogether.
Of course, nuts on the left are apparently embracing the position taken by PETA, which argues with a straight face that chickens, among the dumbest animals on the planet, are actually quite smart.
AlterNet published a column by PETA’s kooky attorney Jeffrey S. Kerr.
“In these circumstances, the law recognizes that the individual who takes a photo owns its copyright regardless of age, gender, race, or, we assert, species. If a human baby had taken these photos, there would have been no question that he or she owned them. That Naruto is a macaque should make no difference.”
Except that Naruto isn’t an “individual” in the legal sense.
And if the monkey is deemed an individual, it’s simply a matter of time before zoos are emptied because they’re considered to be violating the civil rights of the creatures they exhibit.
Cue the theme music from Planet of the Apes.*
*Yes, I know monkeys aren’t apes.