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The ruling in the heavily publicized “monkey selfie” suit has denied copyright to the macaque that took a photo of herself, becoming world-famous.
Back in 2011, professional photographer David Slater visited the Tangkoko National Park, located in Sulawesi, an island of the Indonesian archipelago.
After placing his camera on a tripod, and leaving the gadget’s remote shutter lease within the reach of the natural reserve’s primates, Slater simply took his time, observing as a curious black crested macaque began fiddling with the trigger.
7-year old Naruto actually captured several photos of herself, the vast majority of them being virtually useless.
However, there were also a few gems among the images, which were featured in the “Wildlife Personalities” book, published initially on the San-Francisco based Blurb, an online platform devised for sharing and promoting e-books, magazines and other visual content.
One particular photo, now known as the “monkey selfie”, benefited from the greatest attention, soon turning viral, and receiving extensive media coverage.
Slater claimed that he was the copyright owner of this image and the rest of the footage taken by Naruto, and even had the hugely popular selfie licensed at the Caters News Agency, under his authorship.
According to him, he had been the one masterminding the entire photo set, allowing the macaque to touch the remote shutter release and anticipating that an interesting image might emerge from this unconventional photo shoot.
This reasoning was however rejected by others such as reporters at Techdirt, who explained that Slater couldn’t be considered the selfie’s creator, since he had just passively witnessed the monkey as it was pressing the camera’s trigger, which had been left completely unattended,
On the other hand, as experts argued, Naruto was also not the rightful copyright owner, since she couldn’t be viewed as a legal person.
Therefore, the instantly-recognizable selfie was in fact a public domain image, which is why it was eventually added on Wikimedia Commons, thus preventing Slater from generating more income out of selling the image.
Recently however, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) also got involved in this entire media circus, filing a lawsuit against the photographer while claiming that Naruto had been deprived of her lawful rights.
Representatives of the animal welfare organization demanded monetary compensation from Slater and the Blurb platform, announcing that the money would be offered to the Indonesian wildlife sanctuary, so as to sponsor its preservation efforts concerning the critically endangered primate species.
However, now the saga has come full circle, with US federal judge William H. Orrick III reaching the conclusion that the monkey doesn’t actually have any intellectual property rights related to the image.
The verdict, which can still be overthrown by the US president or by the Congress, was issued based on guidelines formulated by the US Copyright Office back in 2014, when it was established that works created by living creatures (except human beings) can’t benefit from any type of copyright protection.
Meanwhile, David Schwarz, who serves as an attorney for PETA, has deplored the decision to dismiss the lawsuit, stating that the judge basically legalized an obvious case of animal exploitation.
In his view, Naruto’s photo shoot and its subsequent fame were entirely unprecedented, and should’ve been treated as such by the judge, without the verdict being influenced in any way by prior rulings or regulations.
Image Source: Revision3