Society Diary: Peta calls on court to allow monkey to make money from selfie

14 Jul 2017 Voices

Diary note: This is A crested black macaque, not THE crested black macaque.

Another week has come and gone and, well, a lot happened this week didn’t it? Yes, it’s all been kicking off in the world of fundraising and fundraising related regulation. Also, one of Diary’s colleagues has been on holiday until yesterday and is playing catch-up. Crete was very nice though, thanks for asking.

This week in sector satire, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been indulging in a bit of monkey business and London Zoo broke its naked streak for charity.

Intellectual property case goes bananas

You may remember sometime in 2015 that a selfie taken by a crested black macaque in Indonesia went viral. The image of the gurning primate was suddenly all over social media, and we all had a good, long laugh.

Oh, we chuckled, isn’t natural selection a fine thing? We aren’t so different, we mused, the monkeys and us. Charles Darwin was clearly on to something as both species clearly love nothing more than taking a stupid photo of their own faces, usually somewhere lush and summery.

However, the photograph in question, which was taken back in 2011, has become the focal point of a long running legal battle in the United States that may very well change the rules of copyright and intellectual property as we know it. Can an animal own a photograph of itself if it managed to take it, despite not precisely knowing what a photograph or, indeed, what a camera actually is?

Well, the people over at Peta believe they can and they are busily fighting for this macaque’s right to the photograph.

Peta has hired legal counsel and filed an appeal in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco (those self-same judges who have been sticking so firmly in President Donny Trump’s craw in relation to his "travel ban") on behalf of Naruto, the macaque who snapped the picture.

Peta argues that the photograph and any monetary gains stemming from the photograph, should belong to the animal and not to David Slater, the photographer whose camera was used. Slater published the picture in question in a book called Wildlife Personalities in 2014, which led to Peta filing its initial lawsuit on the macaque’s behalf in September 2015.

While this lawsuit failed, with the court ruling humorously noting that it was impossible for a monkey to file for breach of copyright, Peta won’t let the issue lie.

“When science and technology advance, the law adapts,” said Peta general counsel Jeffrey Kerr in a statement. “There is nothing in the Copyright Act limiting ownership based on species, and Peta is asking for an interpretation of the act that acknowledges today’s scientific consensus that macaque monkeys can create an original work.”

For his part, Slater says that he had set his camera up on a tripod with a remote trigger with the explicit intention of allowing the primates to “play with the camera”.

“It was my artistry and idea to leave them to play with the camera and it was all in my eyesight,” he said at the time. “I knew the monkeys were very likely to do this and I predicted it. I knew there was a chance of a photo being taken.”

However, Peta argues that Naruto had been exposed to cameras “throughout his life” and that his smiling face was an acknowledgment that the monkey knew what a camera was, how it worked and what he was doing.

Slater for his part recently told The Guardian that he was broke and “considering dog walking” and claimed that, “if everybody gave me a pound for every time they used the picture I’d probably have £40m in my pocket”.

However, despite all the suffering the monkey selfie seems to have bought him, Slater said that the only upshot of his situation is that the pictures have bought the plight of the black crested macaque (which were facing extinction a few years ago) front and centre.

As Diary said at the very beginning, this whole thing is bananas!

How the London Zoo got its streaks

A few guests at London Zoo yesterday morning might have copped more than an eyeful of a few things they weren’t quite expecting. Yes, one expects the animals in a zoo to be striding around the grounds unfettered by any clothing, but the staff? Not so much.

However, four of the zookeepers at the organisation stripped down to just their standard issue boots yesterday to streak through the Zoo to raise awareness for the charity’s Streak for Tigers event.

The event will take place on 13 August and will be raising money and awareness for the plight of the Sumatran tiger, which faces extinction. The event, now in its fourth year, has raised tens of thousands of pounds to ensure that ZSL can continue its conservation work.

Also, fun fact, a collective noun for a group of tigers is in fact a "streak" – hence, you know, Streak for Tigers.

Well, one learns something new every day… 


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