“They started playing with the cable release,” says Slater. “They were putting it in their mouth, they were squeezing it, and I heard the shots going off as the monkey was sat in front of the camera, making all these funny faces.”
“In a nutshell, that is the long and the short of it.”
It wasn’t until Wikipedia got hold of the image that things started to go downhill. “They decided that because the monkey pressed the button, I had no entitlement to it,” Slater explains. Their argument was that as the monkey took the image, it should have the copyright. However, since it is an animal, it can’t have a copyright and therefore the image is public domain. This completely ignored the creative input that Slater had to give for the picture to occur in the first place.
The takedown requests by Slater were ignored, and he decided to give up. That was until the annual Wikipedia conference came around two years later. “At their 2014 Wikimania conference, they used printed out boards of my monkey selfie as mascots, and were encouraging people to take their own selfie with the selfie, with Jimmy Wales himself doing this,” recounts Slater.
It was at this point that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reared their head. They had been following the debate about whether or not a monkey can own a copyright, and decided to jump on the case to prove their own agenda.
“They’d seen the comment that the monkey should own the picture, but sadly the monkey can’t own copyright,” Slater explains. “PETA then said, ‘well where does it say that in US copyright law?’”
After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring lawyers, PETA decided to take the issue to court, in a bid to further the argument that animals should be awarded the same rights as humans. But in order to argue for copyright on someone's behalf in the US, you need the legal guardian of that person on your side. Obviously, the monkey couldn’t represent itself, so PETA found a primatologist who worked with the macaques and who claims that she has known the monkey in the image from birth.