A macaque named Naruto holds the rights to a photograph that he snapped of himself in 2011, according to a lawsuit filed by PETA today in San Francisco.
The lawsuit isn't just about the famous selfie, which went viral, but instead challenges our views on what constitutes property and ownership, PETA holds.
In a statement issued by the organization, PETA explained, "If this lawsuit succeeds, it will be the first time that a nonhuman animal is declared the owner of property (the copyright of the "monkey selfie"), rather than being declared a piece of property himself or herself. It will also be the first time that a right is extended to a nonhuman animal beyond just the mere basic necessities of food, shelter, water, and veterinary care. In our view, it is high time."
The plaintiff in the lawsuit, filed at the U.S. District Court Northern District of California, is listed as "Naruto, a Crested Macaque, by and through his Next Friends," including PETA and Antje Engelhardt.
Engelhardt is a researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Primate Research.
The defendants are David John Slater and his company Wildlife Personalities Ltd, which PETA says both claim copyright ownership of the photos. Also named as a defendant is the San Francisco-based publishing company Blurb, Inc., which published a collection of Slater's photographs, including two images said to have been taken by Naruto.
As for how Naruto came into possession of a camera, the lawsuit mentions that Slater left his camera unattended. The curious male macaque grabbed the camera and then not only took the selfies, but also photos of the forest floor and pictures of some other macaques.
In his book, Slater wrote, "The recognition that animals have personality and should be granted rights to dignity and property would be a great thing." He then mentioned that macaques are "intelligent - artistic - complex."
Now that the lawsuit has been filed, Slater had this to say to Time: "The facts are that I was the intellect behind the photos, I set the whole thing up. A monkey only pressed a button of a camera set up on a tripod - a tripod I positioned and held throughout the shoot."
Jeffrey Kerr, a lawyer with PETA, disagrees, believing that U.S. Copyright Office policies support Naruto.
"The act grants copyright to authors of original works, with no limit on species," Kerr told the Associated Press. "Copyright law is clear: It's not the person who owns the camera, it's the being who took the photograph."
In the meantime, the image continues to be widely distributed over the Internet, with Wikipedia stating that it is in the public domain.