Back in 2011, a monkey named Naruto took a selfie using wildlife photographer David Slater’s camera. At the time, it quickly went viral, and Slater received immediate notoriety. Fast forward to 2017, David is now bankrupt because of this photo!
Many websites and companies began using the photo without Slater’s permission, saying that Slater hadn’t taken the photo, the monkey did. Even the U.S. Copyright Office stepped in, reminding that animals cannot own a public copyright and that the photo in question would remain public domain. To make matters worse, the animal rights advocacy group PETA is suing Slater for infringing rights on Naruto’s behalf.
Eventually, PETA and Slater managed to settle out of court and the case was dropped, but not after David Slater suffered significant financial loss. Now, Slater is turning to alternative means of employment, even considering Dog Walking or being a Tennis Coach over his photography. Taking a once-in-a-lifetime photo like this is any photographer’s dream, but at what cost?
The ‘selfie’ in question, quickly went viral in 2011, making Naruto famous in a fortnight.
David Slater traveled to Sulawesi, Indonesia, to capture the notorious photos of Naruto and his tribe.
Naruto is a ‘celebes crested macaques’ or commonly called a ‘black ape’ which are notoriously promiscuous primates, sharing both male and female partners and maturing at a young age.
PETA’s case was based on a ‘next friend’ construct, where a minor or person not capable of arguing on their own behalf, would allow an advocate to speak for them. However, in Naruto’s case, PETA had little grounds for actually knowing the ape on a personal level.
The Celebes crested macaques are classified as a critically endangered species, meaning there are fewer than a thousand of them left in the wild.
David Slater’s intentions with the photo shoot were to raise awareness about the plight of the black apes and their endangered status, as they were being hunted and eaten by locals.
Unfortunately for Slater, the courts did not appeal in his favor, emphasizing that animals could not and could never own copyrights, nor would Slater be able to claim lost damages.
Despite his challenges, Slater is happy that the Apes have got more attention. Tourists often visit Sulawesi to catch glimpses of the primates, and locals have reduced their poaching, now referring to the creatures as the ‘selfie monkey.’