This week, PETA filed a copyright infringement suit against David Slater, the wildlife photographer you may recall from last year’s ever-amusing monkey-selfie controversy. In 2011, during an expedition in Indonesia, a black crested macaque grabbed Slater’s camera and began gleefully snapping pictures of itself. One of its shots, posted above this story, miraculously turned out to be a perfectly focused, adorably stoned-looking selfie that was republished around the world. But Slater’s luck ran dry when Wikipedia editors posted the portrait, claiming it belonged in the public domain. Their reasoning was simple: In the United States, the copyright for a photo typically defaults to whoever hits the shutter. Since, in this case, a monkey did the pressing, and apes can’t claim copyrights, the image had no owner.
The activist group is suing Slater and the self-publishing platform he used to produce his book, Blurb, for damages on behalf of the macaque that snapped the selfie—its name is apparently Naruto—claiming that the monkey is the rightful owner of the copyright. How come? According to PETA’s lawyers, U.S. copyright law never explicitly states that an “author” must be human. “While the claim of authorship by species other than homo sapiens may be novel, ‘authorship’ under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., is sufficiently broad so as to permit the protections of the law to extend to any original work, including those created by Naruto.” Should PETA win, it says proceeds from the suit as well as future profits from the photo would be used to care for Naruto, his primate community, and the reserve where they live.