Acting, as always, to uphold the dignity of every living creature save themselves, members of the People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals have brought a lawsuit against a photographer for infringing on the copyright to a photo taken by an endangered crested macaque. The photograph in question, usually referred to as the “monkey selfie,” has actually already been at the center of a contentious legal discussion over who owns the rights to animal-produced art, with the U.S. Copyright Office ruling last year that only works produced by a human being can by subject to copyright.
But that’s not stopping PETA from suing photographer David Slater, claiming that he’s profiting off of works that are owned by an Indonesian macaque (whose name, lest any aspect of this story avoid being completely ridiculous, is Naruto) after it came across and used Slater’s unattended camera equipment in the country’s Tangkoko Reserve. Defining themselves as Naruto’s “next friends”—a legal distinction that was once used to assist women whose legal rights weren’t recognized by the courts, and is now being employed to help a monkey own a selfie—PETA is suing Slater and his publisher, seeking damages to be used to support “Naruto, his family, and his community, including the preservation of their habitat.” (The Celebes crested macaque has seen its population drastically reduced by deforestation, and is listed as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union For The Conservation Of Nature).
Slater was involved in similar drama last year, when he attempted to assert his assumed copyright of the photos to get them removed from Wikipedia. But the U.S. Copyright Office backed up the media company, essentially saying that any work of art created by a non-human goes immediately into the public domain. (Which suggests that we could have all avoided a lot of “Happy Birthday” trouble if Mildred and Patty Hill had been a pair of spotted owls.) Anyway, as usual with PETA, it’s not clear how much of this case is a legitimate attempt to get Naruto paid, and how much is just the organization’s usual efforts to remind people about the awful things that happen to animals at the hands of human beings every single day.