It all started in 2011 when a macaque in the jungles of Indonesia ‘decided’ to get frisky with a wildlife photographer’s camera. The energetic primate proceeded to snap a series of selfies, resulting in a PETA lawsuit filed on behalf of Naruto – the heretofore anonymous macaque.
Questioning whether or not the playful primate intentionally took the photo, an article by NPR.org raised the question, who owned the image, the monkey or the owner of the camera?
Seeing an opportunity for yet another media circus, PETA entered the fray in 2015 and filed a lawsuit to bring attention to the need to extend “fundamental legal rights to animals” said PETA’s website.
The District court Judge William Orrick wrote an opinion that said there was “no indication that the U.S. Copyright Act extended to animals.”PETA appealed the decision, and in September of 2017, PETA and photographer David Slater announced a settlement. As part of the agreement, Slater agreed to donate 25 percent of future revenue from the photos to groups that protect crested macaques and their habitat in Indonesia and both sides requested the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to “dismiss the case and throw out a lower court decision that said animals cannot own copyrights.”
“PETA and David Slater agree that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for nonhuman animals, a goal that they both support, and they will continue their respective work to achieve this goal,” read a joint statement on the group's website.
Fast forward to December, 2017. PETA announced their person of the year was none other than Naruto, the photog extraordinaire.
This august award establishes that Naruto is someone, not something, according to PETA’s website:
“Naruto’s historic selfie challenged the idea of who is a person and who is not and resulted in the first-ever lawsuit seeking to declare a nonhuman animal the owner of property, rather than being declared property himself,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “PETA hopes that by honoring him, Naruto will be recognized as a special person—an individual with thoughts and feelings, emotions and desires, and the ability to plan and self-reflect—as a being with personality, and as someone, not something.”
In a strange twist to the story, it appears that PETA was concerned with the profit Slater was making by selling the images, and yet, according to their website, “Person of the Year T-shirts featuring Naruto are for sale at the PETA Catalog.”
Things that make one go, “hmmmm”.