In 2011, British photographer David Slater, while visiting Sulawesi, Indonesia put his camera into the hands of a crested black macaque and at the time probably had no idea he would be sued by this monkey later on. Slater is a wildlife photographer and saw this opportunity to teach the macaque to be interested in the camera as well as take pictures of himself. The famous macaque, Naruto, took two pictures as showed below and immediately the photos went viral on social media with memes and in blog posts.
Although the photos may be humorous and extraordinary, they have caused Slater his livelihood and five years of being drug through court rooms which have made him want to completely give up photography and his career.
The legal dispute begins when Wikimedia Commons placed Slater’s pictures on their website as royalty free images back in 2012. Slater was informed and requested the pictures be paid for accordingly or be taken off the website completely. The site refused and claimed he did not own the copyrights to the photos because the monkey was the one to press the shutter. As a result, Slater lost a large amount of revenue off the photos and claims it has killed his business. In the first year he made over $2,000 just for one photo, but after it was placed on Wikimedia he lost everyone’s interest in buying it. Now, he claims he’s lost over $13,000 in income and his business is near closing because of it.
To add to it, PETA got involved in the topic back in 2015 and stated all proceeds from the said photos should go to the monkey. After his first court hearing, a court in San Fransisco ruled in his favor and proclaimed copyright protection does not apply to animals. Unpleased with the outcome, PETA challenged the ruling last year, named the macaque Naruto and stated the monkey was the rightful author of the work. The case was appealed to the ninth circuit court of appeals and was finally hearing the oral arguments this last week to determine the verdict.
At this point in the case, Slater was unable to attend the final court dates last week due to a lack of finances to fly back to America. He is now in debt with legal fees and has no income since the photo was released in a public domain. He has now considered giving up his professional career in photography and pursues becoming a tennis coach or dog-walker. Slater announces his reason for visiting the island was to bring awareness to the endangered species through photographs and raising money for the conservation project. On Monday, Slater stated he would have loved to work alongside PETA on the issue to bring funding to the macaques, but they failed to contact his beforehand and took him to court. However, Slater feels some justice in this as the world was unaware of this species of monkey six years prior and tourists are now visiting the island to see the famous “selfie monkey” for themselves.