Selfies. Everywhere. They’re your friends’ updates; proof of travels and adventures; they even come on sticks. For one photographer, selfies also imply a giant mess of legal battles.
Although many of us consider our pets to be members of the family, the law unfortunately sees things differently. Animals, in general, are not of equal footing with respect to legal rights. Stemming from the notion that legal relationships ‘exist between persons’ and not between ‘persons and things’ or between ‘things and things,’ animal rights activists have long-fought an uphill battle to extend certain rights and protections to our furry friends. If you were to ask PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), this recognition extends even to ownership of copyrights.
In 2011, photographer and conservationist David Slater sought to increase awareness of endangered macaque monkeys in Indonesia. After slowly earning the animals’ trust, he was able to get the shot of a lifetime – or rather, Naruto the monkey did… And that’s where things start to get tricky. Wikimedia used the image without crediting Slater, arguing Naruto, not Slater, took the picture; and, because monkeys can’t own copyrights, the image is therefore within the public domain. When Slater later published a book with this image, PETA – piggy-backing off of Wikimedia’s argument – sued Slater on the grounds that “while the claim of authorship by species other than homo sapiens may be novel, ‘authorship’ under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., is sufficiently broad so as to permit the protections of the law to extend to any original work, including those created by Naruto.”
The case was dismissed, finding that monkeys cant own copyrights. PETA appealed, raging the battle forward, while nearly bankrupting Slater. Finally, however, a settlement agreement has been reached. By the parties’ terms, Slater will donate a fifth of future revenue from the images to charities dedicated to protecting crested macaques in Indonesia.
So, what did we really learn here?
I have no idea. But, at least for now, that bone you gave your dog is still technically yours.