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Monkey Selfie Lawsuit Reaches Settlement

A lawsuit brought on behalf of a monkey known as "Naruto" by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in 2015 settled out of court earlier this week. Part of the settlement requires photographer David Slater to donate 25% of proceeds from sales or use of Naruto's "selfie" that gave rise to the conflict to charities that protect Naruto's species - crested macaques.

In 2011, Slater traveled to the Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve on Sulawesi, an island in Indonesia. Slater spent three days observing a group of macaques, including Naruto, in the jungle while slowly earning their trust. When the monkeys grabbed at Slater's camera, he had the idea to mount it on a tripod and let the monkeys have unfettered access. What resulted were a series of "monkey selfies" that ignited a legal battle over ownership.

PETA filed a lawsuit in 2015 on Naruto's behalf claiming that the monkey owned the copyright to the photo, which had since gone viral. PETA described the suit as "groundbreaking," intending to "extend fundamental rights to animals for their own sake - not in relation to the ways in which they can be exploited by humans." Slater, on the other hand, has likened the case to "a monkey on his back."

PETA initially argued that U.S. copyright law does not specify who can own the copyright to a work based upon species; claiming that since a human in Naruto's situation would own the ensuing selfie, it should be no different for the monkey. In January 2016, a federal judge disagreed; ruling that the Copyright Act did not apply to animals. PETA appealed the decision but eventually came to a settlement agreement. 

Slater was relieved to reach settlement, claiming that photographers already have a difficult time making a living without "ridiculous interpretations" of copyright law from sources like PETA. PETA also considered the settlement outcome a positive one; and further stated that Naruto's selfie proved that he and his fellow monkeys are highly intelligent and worthy of holding legal ownership to their own intellectual property. 

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