PETA U.S. Seeks First-Ever Property Ownership for a Non-Human Primate

For Immediate Release:
23 September 2015

Jakarta — The U.S. Copyright Act grants copyright ownership of a “selfie” to the “author” of the photograph—and there’s nothing in the law that limits such ownership on the basis of species. That’s why PETA U.S. filed a lawsuit this morning asking the U.S. federal court in San Francisco to declare Naruto—a  six-year-old free male crested macaque living in Indonesia—as the author and owner of the internationally-famous “Monkey Selfie” photographs that he took sometime before 2011.

The defendants in the lawsuit are professional wildlife photographer David J. Slater and his company (Wildlife Personalities Ltd.), which both claim copyright ownership of the photographs that Naruto indisputably took. Also named as a defendant is the San Francisco–based publishing company Blurb, Inc., which published a collection of Slater’s photographs, including two of the selfies authored by Naruto.

The complaint seeks monetary damages as well as an injunction barring the sale or publication of the photographs. PETA U.S., as “next friend” to Naruto, seeks the court’s permission to manage the copyright in the photos, license them for commercial use, and use 100 percent of the proceeds for the benefit of Naruto and his community, without compensation to PETA U.S.

“If we prevail in this lawsuit, it will be the first time that a non-human animal is declared the owner of property, rather than being declared a piece of property himself or herself”, says General Counsel to PETA U.S. Jeffrey Kerr. “Such a decision by the court would demonstrate what PETA U.S. has championed for 35 years, which is that animals’ rights should be recognized for the animals’ sake and not in relation to their exploitation by humans.”

In addition to PETA U.S., renowned macaque expert Antje Engelhardt, Ph.D., who has worked to study and protect Naruto and his community for years, will serve as a “next friend” representing Naruto’s interests in court.

Highly intelligent crested macaques—who, like humans, are vision-dominant, possess advanced reasoning abilities, and delicately and purposefully manipulate objects with their hands—are critically endangered. Their numbers have decreased by approximately 90 percent over the last 25 years as a result of human encroachment, being killed by humans in retribution for foraging on crops, and being trapped and slaughtered for meat.

For more information about the cruelty that captive monkeys face in zoos and laboratories, please visit