‘Monkey selfie’ creator continues legal battle, now broke

Going freelance is not easy. You either go big or go broke. One freelance photographer thought he would go big if he could get a monkey to do a selfie, but things didn’t turn out how he expected.

Freelance photographer David Slater is now in a dire financial situation as the legal proceedings regarding his now famous “monkey selfie” photos continue in a United States court.

Slater had to settle for watching a livestream of the proceedings from his United Kingdom home because he can’t afford the plane ticket, and is also not able to pay for the lawyer representing him, according to The Guardian.

Slater’s “monkey selfie” photos have become popular on the internet, but in 2014, things became complicated. Slater asked Wikipedia and blog Techdirt to stop using the photos, as he claims copyright for the said images. Wikipedia thought otherwise and argued that the photos were uncopyrightable because the monkey was the creator of the images. But the U.S. Copyright Office later on ruled that animals cannot own copyrights.

“If everybody gave me a pound for every time they used [the photograph], I’d probably have £40m in my pocket. The proceeds from these photographs should have me comfortable now, and I’m not,” Slater said in the report.

In 2015, Slater was sued by the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) on behalf of a crested black macaque which the organization identified as a six-year-old male named Naruto. A judge ruled against Peta the following year, saying that animals were not covered by the Copyright Act. Peta appealed to the ninth circuit court of appeals and the legal battle continues to this day.

Several points contested in court include whether Peta truly has a close relationship with Naruto to represent the animal in court. The value of providing written notice of copyright claim to a community of macaques is also called into question, as well as whether Naruto is actually harmed by not being recognized as a copyright holder.

“There is no way to acquire or hold money. There is no loss as to reputation. There is not even any allegation that the copyright could have somehow benefited Naruto,” Judge N Randy Smith was quoted in the report. “What financial benefits apply to him? There’s nothing.”

Slater and his publisher’s lawyer also questioned if Peta even identified the right monkey.

“I know for a fact that [the monkey in the photograph] is a female and it’s the wrong age,” according to Slater. “I’m bewildered at the American court system. Surely it matters that the right monkey is suing me.”
Slater had spent long hours following and trying to coax the group of monkeys that he took photos of during his trip to Sulawesi India in 2011. He stated that the selfies were a result of his ingenuity in getting the monkeys to press the shutter button while looking at the lens without blinking.

His only consolation, he said, is that his photos could help in saving the crested black macaque from extinction: “The picture hopefully contributed to saving the species. That was the original intention all along.”

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