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Photographer Settles ‘Monkey Selfie’ Copyright Lawsuit

Photographer David Slater has finally settled his two-year legal battle over the monkey selfie photos that went viral back in 2011.

The animal rights group PETA has dropped the lawsuit against Slater after Slater agreed to donate 25% of all future profits from the photo to registered charities “dedicated to protecting the welfare or habitat” of the monkey named Naruto.

Naruto the macaque monkey had originally snapped selfies of itself after picking up Slater’s camera in an Indonesian national park. After the photos went viral and were published far and wide, a debate erupted over whether Slater actually owned the copyright to the photos, since Naruto was technically the one who triggered the shutter.

In September 2015, PETA sued Slater on Naruto’s behalf in order to have the copyright officially assigned to the 6-year-old monkey. Throughout the dispute, the US legal system and government both argued against PETA’s claim: the US Copyright Office stated it couldn’t register the works of monkeys in 2014, and a judge ruled that the monkey couldn’t own a copyright in 2016.

Despite these setbacks, PETA pushed forward with its legal battle against Slater, who revealed earlier this year that the lawsuit had driven him to financial ruin.

In announcing the settlement today, PETA states that the case “broke new ground for animal rights.”

“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,” PETA and Slater write in a joint statement.

“Naruto and the famous ‘monkey selfie’ photographs that he undeniably took clearly demonstrate that he and his fellow macaques—like so many other animals—are highly intelligent, thinking, sophisticated beings worthy of having legal ownership of their own intellectual property and holding other rights as members of the legal community,” PETA says.

Although Slater can now freely license the monkey selfies and keep 75% of the profits, it remains to be seen whether there’s still enough demand for the images to compensate for the financial and emotional toll caused by the costly lawsuit.


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