The Legal Case Of A Man Being Sued By A Monkey Has Finally Been Settled

The "monkey selfie" has now become one of the most famous wildlife photographs in the world. (C) David Slater

After two years of court battles and legal tangles, one of the most famous copyright cases in recent times – concerning whether or not a monkey can own intellectual property rights – has finally come to a close.

Making headlines around the globe, the case involved British photographer David Slater and the “selfie” taken by an endangered Sulawesi crested macaque. But because the monkey pressed the button that took the image, the animal rights group PETA decided to take Slater to court on behalf of the monkey, claiming that by using the image in a book he had breached the animal’s copyright.


So began years of litigation, in which Slater was dragged through the courts as PETA tried to use the case to further their own agenda in which they seek to prove that animals can own property. PETA’s first attempt to gain copyright ownership for the monkey was thrown out, so they then appealed. Now, this appeal has been dismissed, but Slater has reached an agreement with PETA in which he will donate 25 percent of all revenue made from the selfie towards conservation of the primates.

Slater with the macaques in 2011. (C) David Slater

“PETA and David Slater agree that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for nonhuman animals, a goal that they both support, and they will continue their respective work to achieve this goal,” a joint statement reads.

The events that led up to the now infamous monkey selfie began in 2011 on the island of Sulawesi. Slater spent days with a troop of the rare macaques, eventually winning their trust, and enabling him to set up a camera with a cord release, until one of the monkeys looked into the lens and pressed the shutter.

It was when Wikimedia noticed the image that the problems began. Using the picture on Wikipedia without crediting Slater, they argued that because the monkey took the image, and monkeys can’t own copyright, that the image is therefore in the public domain and can be used freely. Slater saw things differently, and contended that the image would never have existed if he had not set the cameras up and won the animals' trust in the first place.


It was on the back of this that PETA then waded in, filing a copyright infringement suit against Slater on behalf of the monkey that they contentiously identified as a young male known to researchers as Naruto (Slater says the monkey In question was actually a female).

Now that the case has finally been settled, it seems that Slater may be able to now get on with his life and career, in which all he was trying to do in the first place was raise awareness to the plight of the endangered macaques of Sulawesi.


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