Suit Over Monkey’s Selfies Ends in Settlement

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A nature photographer and animal rights group settled their two-year dispute over the ownership of a monkey’s selfies on Monday, just as the Ninth Circuit was mulling an appeal in the case.

Photo: David Slater/court exhibit

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued nature photographer David John Slater in September 2015, claiming Naruto, a then-6-year-old crested macaque, is the rightful owner of copyrights for his selfie photos.

Naruto used his opposable thumbs to snap self-portraits with Slater’s camera in 2011. The photos became known as the famous “monkey selfies.”

PETA argued profits from those artistic works should go to benefit Naruto’s endangered species and habitat.

In July, both sides argued before a Ninth Circuit panel on PETA’s bid to overturn a federal judge’s ruling that held animals like Naruto lack standing to sue and cannot own copyrights under federal law.

Both parties filed a motion to dismiss the appeal on Monday.

Under terms of the settlement, Slater will donate 25 percent of revenue from the monkey selfie photos to charities focused on protecting and improving the welfare and habitat of crested black macaques in Indonesia.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Slater said he supports expanding the fundamental rights of animals so they are guaranteed health, security, longevity and peace.

“This shared goal is far more important than battles over copyright between me and the monkey I want to help,” Slater wrote.

Promoting the conservation and protection of the “extremely endangered” species was the original aim behind Slater’s trip to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where Naruto snapped the selfies, Slater added.

“Comparing their personality to ours, through a photograph” was intended to persuade more humans to respect and love those threatened creatures, he said.

“PETA and David Slater agree that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for non-human animals, a goal that they both support, and they will continue their respective work to achieve this goal,” the two sides said in a joint statement. “As we learn more about Naruto, his community of macaques, and all other animals, we must recognize appropriate fundamental legal rights for them as our fellow global occupants and members of their own nations who want only to live their lives and be with their families.”

In the motion to dismiss filed Monday, PETA also asked the Ninth Circuit to vacate the federal judge’s ruling that Naruto lacks standing to sue and cannot own copyrights, a condition Slater and the other defendants do not oppose.

Because Slater argued PETA lacked standing to sue as a next friend of Naruto on appeal, Naruto should not be bound by that ruling, PETA said.

The photographer had argued PETA lacked standing to sue as a next friend of Naruto because the only next-friend plaintiff with a real-life connection to Naruto, German zoologist Antje Engelhardt, withdrew from the case on appeal.

“PETA contends it would be just and proper to not bind plaintiff Naruto by the judgment of the district court in light of the dispute concerning PETA’s status to file the complaint which resulted in that judgment,” both sides wrote in their motion to dismiss and vacate the judgment.

When asked what lessons he learned from litigating this case, Slater’s attorney Andrew Dhuey said: “I learned that David Slater is a fantastic person who cares deeply about all animals, and particularly crested macaques.”

PETA attorney David Schwarz did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday morning.

Schwarz is with Irell & Manella in Los Angeles. Dhuey is in private practice in Berkeley, California.


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