The End of the Monkey Selfie Saga

The End of the Monkey Selfie Saga.

herbert2512 / Pixabay

We reported in March 2016 that a U.S. district court held that a monkey cannot own the copyright to his selfies. People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) appealed the district court’s decision, and the court of appeals heard oral arguments in July. But now, the years-long legal battle has come to an end.

A brief flashback—the monkey selfie saga began in 2011 in Indonesia when a monkey named Naruto grabbed a camera that belonged to wildlife photographer David J. Slater. Naruto took selfies with Slater’s camera, which gave rise to a novel lawsuit by PETA. PETA asked the court to recognize Naruto as the owner of the copyright for the pictures. As mentioned above, the court declined to recognize the monkey as the copyright owner. (For more on the lawsuit and its development, see our previous posts – Can Anyone Own a Monkey Selfie? and Monkey Cannot Own Selfie Copyright).

The Settlement

On September 11, 2017, Slater and PETA announced in a joint statement that they had reached a settlement of the lawsuit.[1]

Slater and PETA announced their agreement “that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for non-human animals, a goal that they both support, and they will continue their respective work to achieve this goal.” The deal involved Slater donating 25 percent of all future revenue from the monkey selfie to charities that protect the welfare and habitat of Naruto and his friends. Additionally, PETA and Slater asked the U.S. court of appeals to dismiss PETA’s appeal of the case and vacate the district court’s ruling that the monkey cannot own the copyright.

How Much?

So exactly how much would Slater be donating? Slater’s attorney declined to comment on the settlement, and PETA’s general counsel did not know how much Slater had profited from the monkey selfie in the past.[2] However, a notice on Slater’s website announced that he would be donating 10% of proceeds from signed prints of the photo to a monkey conservation project in Sulawesi.[3]

Interestingly, Slater said in a July 2017 interview that he was in financial trouble despite the famous selfie.[4] According to the interview, Slater made just enough money to cover the cost of the trip to Indonesia from the selfie. Beyond that, he was broke to the point that he could not afford to travel from the UK to San Francisco to attend the appeals hearing or replace his broken camera equipment—he was even thinking about becoming a dog walker.

[1] PETA Statement: ‘Monkey Selfie’ Case Settled, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, Sept. 11, 2017.

[2] Matthew Haag, Who Owns a Monkey Selfie? Settlement Should Leave Him Smiling, New York Times, Sept. 11, 2017.

[3] Jason Slotkin, ‘Monkey Selfie’ Lawsuit Ends With Settlement Between PETA, Photographer, NPR, Sept. 12, 2017.

[4] Julia Carrie Wong, Monkey Selfie Photographer Says He’s Broke: ‘I’m Thinking of Dog Walking,The Guardian, July 12, 2017.