Selfies have become so ubiquitous that even animals are taking them. Yup, you read that right. A photograph of a monkey, a black Sulawesi crested macaque to be exact, was an instant hit when it was taken by said monkey. David Slater is the photographer that processed and uploaded the image.
The issue here is this: who owns the rights to the photo? The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) seems to think that the photo belongs to the monkey and has, in fact, sued the photographer for the right to the photo. The decision rests in the hands of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Some judges do not believe that the monkey should have rights to the photo given that she is an animal who does not actually have a defined sense of self and therefore is incapable of expressing herself in a meaningful artistic way. This is the basic conclusion of the lawsuit to date, however, PETA has decided to appeal this decision.
It all went down after Wikipedia claimed that the image was the work of the monkey, yet Slater had included the image in a book that he published about wildlife. PETA sued Slater for the profits of the book which they instead want to direct towards the monkey.
PETA claims that they would like the earnings to go towards the support and preservation of the species. According to PETA, “If this lawsuit succeeds […] it will be the first time that a non-human animal is declared the owner of a property, rather than being declared a piece of property himself or herself”
However, Slater, who has used up his entire savings to defend his rights to the photo, believes that the photo belongs to him, given that he was the one who went into the jungle, built the relationship with the animals that allowed him to get into close proximity to them, and he was also the one responsible for processing the image.
In July of this year, Slater stated that as a result of the pictures having been made freely available for commercial reuse on Wikimedia Commons and the ongoing PETA lawsuit, he was financially ruined and was considering giving up his career as a wildlife photographer. The decision as to the rights of the photos is yet to be finalized.
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