Remember that selfie of the grinning monkey that sparked a three-year court fight?
Well, it’s over — pending appeal, that is.
PETA took wildlife photographer David Slater to court in 2014, on behalf of an Indonesian crested macaque named Naruto. A selfie photo of a grimacing Naruto went viral in 2011 and became a talking point from Indiana to Indonesia.
PETA argued before San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal that Naruto is the legal copyright holder — since he took the photo — and as such is entitled to any proceeds Slater made from future transactions.
Given Slater’s court costs — he’s a self-employed nature photographer, after all, not a Wall Street banker — that was never going to amount to much.
As it is, Slater told everyone from the BBC to the Daily Telegraph that the case has driven him to the brink of bankruptcy, even though, to most eyes, the case is bafffling, not to mention bananas.
PETA has argued that, under US copyright law, the person who takes a picture is the copyright owner, even if, as happened in this case, Slater who flew to Indonesia, provided the camera and set up the shot. Slater later included the resulting image in a book of his wildlife pictures, published by Blurb Inc.
Not wanting to leave anyone out of the frame, PETA also named Blurb as a defendant in its suit.
Now, word comes that the two parties have agreed to a settlement, one they both profess to be being happy about but will likely please no one, least of all the monkey.
Ironically — though not surprisingly — the photo in question is appearing all over again, all over the world, from Indiana to Indonesia, even though neither PETA nor Slater stand to get rich from the notoriety. One online publication has credited the infamous photo as, “Copyright David Slater. Or Naruto the monkey. Not sure which.”
Slater, 52, is from South Wales. And if you’re wondering why a San Francisco court got involved in a case involving a macaque from Indonesia and a photographer from the UK, well, you’re not alone. US copyright law extends the world over, evidently.
“It is absurd that a monkey can sue for copyright infringement in court,” Angela Dunning, Slater’s co-counsel and in-house attorney for Blurb, told the appeals court in July.
“Naruto can’t benefit financially from his work,” Dunning added. “He is a monkey.”
Court judge Carlos Bea asked at the outset why the case shouldn’t be tossed, on principle. He asked if anyone, inside or outside the courtroom, can point to any case law which specifically states thatman and monkey are equal in the eyes of the law.
Bea also wondered aloud whether PETA had “sufficient relationship” with Naruto to represent themselves in the legal capacity of “next friend.”
With friends like this, who needs enemies, the dispassionate observer might well ask.
The monkey business came to an end Friday when PETA gave up its appeal, as dutifully reported by the insider website law.com.
Details of the settlement were announced Monday, though not in full.
There was no mention of court costs, for example, or attorney fees, which the near-bankrupt Slater hoped to recover.
Instead, the two parties issued a joint statement, in which PETA and Slater agreed that the case raises “important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for non-human animals.”
Slater insisted from the beginning that he wants his wildlife photos to highlight the plight of endangered species around the world.
As part of the settlement, then Slater agreed to pay 25 percent of future gross revenues from the monkey selfies to a range of non-governmental organizations dedicated to preserving the macaque’s natural habitat in Indonesia.
It’s hard to judge whether any legal precedent was set by a court case that captured the imagination of headline writers the world over.
In the end, the two parties couldn’t even agree on what gender the monkey was. Or is.
PETA claimed Naruto is a female well-known to park custodians in that region of Indonesia; Slater argued it’s a different monkey altogether, and a male at that.
For the record, court documents referred to Naruto throughout the trial as a male.
Meanwhile, the all-important question — what would the monkey have done with the money if he were human? — will have to go unanswered. For now.