Monkey see, Monkey sue

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© Self-portrait by the depicted Macaca nigra female; taken on the camera of, and rotated and cropped by, David Slater

IN an unusual case, an American judge has ruled that a monkey cannot be declared the copyright owner of a series of ‘selfies’ taken in Indonesia in 2011.

The macaque monkey, part of an endangered species with a height of up to one metre and striking reddish eyes, took the photographs of itself after British photographer David Slater set up and positioned the cameras, in the hope that one of the monkeys would take a proper self portrait.

 Mr Slater has argued that his company Wildlife Personalities Ltd obtained British copyright for the photos which should be applicable worldwide. The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), however, claimed that six-year-old Naruto, who took the photos, should receive copyright and that proceeds from the photos should be distributed amongst her community. 

The photos have now been widely distributed across the world, with important sharing sites such as Wikipedia arguing that no one owns the copyright as the images were taken by an animal and not a person. 

In response to the controversy the US Copyright Office has now explicitly stated that photos taken by a monkey, or murals painted by an elephant, will not qualify. 

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