August 2017. The long-running dispute over the copyright to photos of monkeys taking selfies finally appears to have been resolved. On 4 August the disputants – animal rights organisation PETA and freelance photographer David Slater – jointly petitioned the US courts to suspend the case pending an amicable settlement.

The photo credits ©Caters, the agency representing Slater. But should it? Mightn’t Photos ©Monkeys 2011 be more accurate?


The case was brought in 2011 after a monkey in a forest in Indonesia made off with Slater’s camera and accidentally took a couple of appealing selfies. When the photos went ‘viral’, Slater objected, claiming he owned the copyright and (unsuccessfully) demanding that Wikipedia remove them from the Internet.


That led to an intensive discussion as to whether in fact the copyright should lie with the monkey who’d shot the photo. Events took an even odder turn when in 2015 the organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a suit against Slater on behalf of the monkey, which was given the name Naruto.


This prompted a further heated debate about whether an animal can in fact hold a copyright, what gave PETA the right to become involved in the case on behalf of a monkey and what Naruto himself thought of it all (assuming he was still alive).


It’s too crazy for words that such an issue should take up so much time for so long and even result in a legal dispute. After all, it doesn’t seem that complicated. It’s generally accepted that animals can’t hold a copyright. And since Slater didn’t take the photos, he doesn’t have a claim to them either. In other words, the photos fall within the public domain.


Moreover, PETA and its highly regarded specialist lawyers should be ashamed of themselves: first they give an anonymous Indonesian ape a name, then they say it’s instigated legal proceedings against a photographer in the United States. Amusing perhaps, but a complete waste of money.

A lawyer (left) signs the request for a suspension of the case on behalf of Naruto (presumably) right.

Bas Kist