Both sides agree to stop monkeying around in primate selfie suit

07:00 AM September 13, 2017

Associated Press, New York Times News Service

SAN FRANCISCO — Monkey see. Monkey sue. Monkey settle.


In 2011, Naruto, a curious 6-year-old monkey in Indonesia, peered into a camera lens, grinned and pressed the shutter button on the unattended camera.

Little did the endangered crested macaque know that he may have been providing for his future.


The selfie of his bucktooth smile and wide amber eyes made Naruto an internet celebrity.

But the widely shared image became embroiled in a novel and lengthy lawsuit over whether the monkey owned the rights to it.

Naruto lost the first round in federal court in California in 2016, but won a victory of sorts in a settlement on Monday for himself and his friends.


The camera’s owner, David J. Slater, agreed to donate 25 percent of future revenue of the images taken by the monkey to charitable organizations that protect Naruto, who lives in the Tangkoko Reserve on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, and other crested macaques.

Under the deal, Slater would keep all of the remaining 75 percent of future revenue generated by the photos clicked by Naruto.

Lawyers for Slater, a British photographer, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), which sued Slater on Naruto’s behalf, also asked the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which was hearing an appeal in the case, to drop the lawsuit and throw out the lower court’s decision that found the monkey could not own the image’s copyright.


The lawyers of both sides notified the appeals court on Aug. 4 that they were nearing a settlement and asked the three-judge panel of the 9th circuit not to rule. The panel heard oral arguments in July.

“Peta and David Slater agree that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for nonhuman animals, a goal that they both support, and they will continue their respective work to achieve this goal,” the opposing sides said in a joint statement on Monday.

Slater could not be reached for comment, and his lawyer declined to comment.

Benefit for Naruto

But Jeff Kerr, the general counsel for Peta, said the group was pleased that Naruto would benefit from the images.

“The dire need of Naruto is what fully underpins why we pursued this lawsuit to begin with,” Kerr said in an interview. “We wanted every bit of all of the proceeds to benefit Naruto.”

It is not clear how much money will be directed to charitable organizations from sales of the image. Kerr said he did not know how much money Slater had made on past sales.

Slater, a freelance photographer, told The Guardian in July that he could not afford to fly to California from England for an appeals court hearing and was considering other sources of income.

“I’m even thinking about doing dog walking,” he told the publication.

2011 trip to Sulawesi

Naruto snapped the image during a 2011 trip by Slater to the nature reserve on Sulawesi, one of the few habitats for crested macaques, black monkeys with sloping faces and short tails.

Slater mounted the camera on a tripod and set it to autofocus when Naruto approached, looked into the lens and pressed the button.

Slater published the photographs in his book, “Wildlife Personalities,” and fought with groups, including the Wikimedia Foundation, which used the image without permission.

The Wikimedia Foundation said the photograph was in the public domain.

Issue of ownership

Copyright law in the United States grants ownership rights for images to the person who took them.

Peta had argued Naruto was the rightful owner because he physically pressed the shutter button to create the image.

Judge William H. Orrick of the US District Court in San Francisco disagreed and ruled in January 2016 that animals were not included in copyright law.

According to Kerr, Naruto still lives in the Tangkoko Reserve where he is fed daily by park workers and is a popular attraction.

But crested macaques there are under constant threat by poachers, and the mammals are considered critically endangered.

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TAGS: David J. Slater, monkey selfie, Naruto
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