The joke is over in the monkey selfie case.
Photographer David Slater, who is defending himself against PETA’s copyright infringement claim on behalf of a monkey, has told the Telegraph newspaper that the lawsuit has left him penniless. He is considering giving up his career as a wildlife photographer to become a tennis coach or dog walker instead, the paper says.
“I am just not motivated to go out and take photos any more. I’ve had outlays of several thousand pounds for lawyers, it is losing me income and getting me so depressed. When I think about the whole situation I really don’t think it’s worth it,” he told the Telegraph.
The case centers around a monkey named Naruto, who picked up Slater’s unattended camera in 2011 and shot a selfie. Slater published that selfie, which eventually precipitated Naruto v. David Slater, a 2015 copyright infringement claim that PETA filed in a California federal court. PETA’s argument was that because the monkey took the picture, it owned the copyright—just as any person would.
Let’s be clear: The monkey has suffered no injury. The monkey lodged no complaint to PETA or anybody else. The monkey is oblivious to the lawsuit. The monkey doesn’t give a shit about copyright. And PETA doesn’t particularly care about Naruto. Their interest is in establishing a legal precedent that gives animals the same rights as humans. Naruto’s selfie made copyright an opportune place to start. David Slater is just PETA’s collateral damage.
Judges aren’t buying PETA’s arguments, though. A federal trial court dismissed the case last year on the grounds that the US Copyright Act doesn’t give animals standing to own copyright. PETA appealed to the US Court of Appeals in San Francisco, where judges also expressed doubt this week during oral arguments that the animals can own copyright under the US Copyright Act. (A ruling from that court is pending.)
PETA’s mission to protect animals is laudable, even if it inevitably inconveniences people. But is it a winning strategy to ruin people who are doing no actual injury to animals?
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