Monkey Loses Copyrights To His Selfie

PETA accused of abandoning the monkey’s cause after accepting a settlement.

By Justyne Yuen-Lee


Credit: Facebook / Wildlife Photographer David J Slater – DJS Photography

Nature photographer, David J. Slater, was a regular in the jungles of Indonesia, with a passionate interest in capturing images of celebes crested macaques. In 2011, these critically endangered monkeys took interest in Slater’s camera that had been mounted on a tripod. They started to play with the remote that controlled image taking and this curiosity resulted in some pretty awesome selfies. One particularly toothy selfie of Naruto, a Macaque who lived on the island of Sulawesi, became very popular on the Internet.


Credit: DJS Photography

Slater then licensed some of these images to Caters News Agency, which then released them to the British media. Popular publications such as the Daily Mail, The Telegraph, and The Guardian used the photos in a story that claimed the monkeys stole the camera and took the selfies – glamorizing the situation.


Credit: DJS Photography / Caters News Agency

According to Slater, the situation didn’t play exactly like that since the camera was mounted on a tripod and each monkey fought to play with the remote. But it was great press and raised awareness for the endangered monkeys.


Credit: Facebook / PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)

As the photos gained popularity, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) decided to take Slater to court on behalf of Naruto to fight for Naruto’s rights to the photo.



This three-year legal struggle raised the question: can a non-human own a photo copyright?  PETA acted as Naruto’s “next friend,” which is a legal term for a person who acts on a behalf of another, who cannot act on their own.


Credit: DJS Photography

The final ruling was against PETA and Naruto; monkeys may not own the rights to their image.  Since Slater owned the camera that Naruto used to take the photo, Slater claimed the copyright. However, PETA reached a settlement with Slater that required him to donate 25% of all proceeds from the book he published to charities that work towards protecting Naruto’s habitat.



The case ended there, as PETA dismissed its appeal, but the court was not impressed with the lack of follow-through. The judges criticized PETA for abandoning the case so quickly after receiving a monetary settlement that did not affect Naruto in any direct way at all.

Credit: Matt_Williams

The court argued that PETA “failed” Naruto as his “next friend” and if Naruto were a human, he could have arguably sued PETA for dismissing the appeal. The three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s overall opinion had three main points:

  • Whether PETA’s relationship with Naruto was significant enough to allow the organization to be his next friend,
  • Whether animals can legally bring a case in federal court, and
  • Whether they have standing under the Copyright Act.

Credit: Alexandr Junek Imaging

The court saw that PETA essentially abandoned Naruto and used him as a pawn to support its ideological goals. PETA saw things differently and said in a statement that non-human animals could, indeed, bring a case to court.



Slater, on the other hand, was glad that the case was finally over and argued that Naruto wasn’t even the true photographer – it was another monkey named Ella. However, the court didn’t address that. Nonetheless, the court made its point, PETA took a “win”, and Slater can now go back to focussing on his passion for nature photography.

What do you think of this legal case? Do you think animals should be able to own copyright?