Can a monkey own the copyright to his own photograph? (The "property or personhood" debate in action)

True story. The monkey pressed the shutter button on the camera and took a "selfie". A US appeals court has debated whether or not a monkey can own the copyright to a selfie. In the meantime, photographer David Slater could not afford the air fare to San Francisco to attend the hearing, afford to replace his broken camera equipment, or pay the attorney who has been defending him since the crested black macaque sued him in 2015, and is exploring other ways to earn an income.

The story of the monkey selfie began in 2011, when Slater traveled to Sulawesi, Indonesia, and spent several days following and photographing a troop of macaques. The selfie photographs became popular, but the images became the subject of a complicated legal dispute in 2014, when Slater asked the blog Techdirt and Wikipedia to stop using them without permission.The websites refused, with Wikipedia claiming that the photograph was uncopyrightable because the monkey was the actual creator of the image.

The US Copyright Office subsequently ruled that animals cannot own copyrights. However, in 2015, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) filed a suit against Slater on behalf of the macaque, which it identified as a six-year-old male named Naruto, claiming that the animal was the rightful owner of the copyright. A judge ruled against Peta in 2016, saying that animals were not covered by the Copyright Act. Peta appealed to the ninth circuit court of appeals. Among the points of contention were whether Peta has a close enough relationship to Naruto to represent it in court, the value of providing written notice of a copyright claim to a community of macaques, and whether Naruto is actually harmed by not being recognized as a copyright-holder.

Those people advocating for removal of the legal classification of animals as "property", and especially legal scholars promoting the concept of "personhood" for animals, spearheaded in many ways by "the Great Ape Project", must be watching this case with enormous interest.

PS You can see some of the actual photographs by visiting the page at