We live in strange times. Icebergs the size of Delaware are breaking into the ocean. Captain America is a bad guy. Russia is up to some shenanigans. But there is perhaps no clearer harbinger of the wildness of our age than the case of a monkey being represented by PETA in court against a photographer whose camera was used by the monkey to take a picture of itself.
Confused? We can explain it to you, but it’s not going to get any less confusing. It’s a story as weird as it is dumb, and even has a bit of a tragic end note, so strap in. You may remember the case of David Slater, a British nature photographer who left his camera lying around only for a curious monkey to swing by and accidentally take a toothy selfie. Charming pic, cute anecdote, end of story, right? Haha, no, you’re still operating on 2016 logic. This is 2017, where madness is the one governing law of the universe. Via the Chicago Tribune:
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued Slater and the San Francisco-based self-publishing company Blurb, which published a book called “Wildlife Personalities” that includes the monkey selfies, for copyright infringement. It sought a court order in 2015 allowing it to administer all proceeds from the photos taken in a wildlife reserve in Sulawesi, Indonesia to benefit the monkey.
Yes, PETA—champion of causes that definitely matter and are no way insane publicity stunts—is dragging Slater to court, claiming he is profiting off a photo that rightfully belongs to a free-living crested macaque named Naruto.
Slater has an attorney named Andrew Dhuey, who most assuredly did not see this coming back when he passed the bar. PETA’s case is pretty straightforward, to their thinking: “Photographs can be copyrighted and Naruto is the author.” Dhuey’s case is equally straightforward: “He’s a monkey.”
As part of his defense, Dhuey pointed out that Naruto didn’t even bother to show up in court and protest for his rights. “It’s like he doesn’t even care,” Dhuey said. Slater’s line of defense is a little different: He doesn’t even think PETA has the right monkey. “I know for a fact that [the monkey in the photograph] is a female and it’s the wrong age,” he told the Guardian. “I’m bewildered at the American court system. Surely it matters that the right monkey is suing me.”
And that tragic ending note we told you about? It’s that Slater got into this mess in the first place because he wanted to copyright his famous photo, and now PETA’s dragging him to court over it. A photo as famous as Slater’s could probably give him a pretty comfortable living but, instead, he says he can’t afford a car, is trying to become a tennis coach and is thinking of making ends meet by walking dogs.
“I don’t make enough money to pay income tax,” he said in an interview, and was especially distraught by his seven-year-old daughter. “There’s no camera equipment for her to inherit if I die tomorrow,” he said. “She should inherit this [copyright], but it’s worthless.”