In September, the animal rights group PETA filed a lawsuit against photographer David Slater, arguing that the monkey who took a series of viral selfies with Slater’s camera in 2011 should be the rightful copyright owner.
If you thought that was strange, get this: the legal battle has now evolved into a dispute over the pictured monkey’s identity and gender.
The Washington Post reports that Slater’s lawyers filed defense papers last week arguing that PETA can’t prove the identity of the monkey in the selfies. PETA filed their lawsuit as “next friends” on behalf of “Naruto,” a 6-year-old macaque that lives in the jungles of Indonesia, since Naruto isn’t capable of filing the lawsuit.
“The allegation that Naruto is, in fact, the monkey who took the Monkey Selfies is contradicted by other allegations in the Complaint,” Slater’s lawyers write in their motion to have the case tossed. “Specifically, in the Wildlife Book, Mr. Slater describes the monkey who took the photographs as a female, not a male like Naruto.”
Slater also claims that PETA had previously referred to the monkey photographer as a female as well.
Motherboard did its own investigation back in September, consulting a researcher named Carol Berman who has Ph.D students working with the same monkeys in Indonesia.
“I can say with confidence that the monkey in the full body photo is a juvenile male,” Berman says. She says the proof is in “a round pink spot in his crotch which is the top of his withdrawn penis.” However, Berman isn’t sure the same monkey appears in all the photos.
@sarahjeong What if PETA have the wrong monkey? How can Naruta testify under oath that he is or isn't the monkey that took the picture?
— Matthew Garrett (@mjg59) September 24, 2015
“All you need to know is PETA have no proof they are talking about the same monkey,” Slater tells Motherboard. “They hope you will buy into their stunt because an expert is willing to say her monkey is the one in my photos without proof.”
The US Copyright office states that photos must be the product of human authorship in order to be copyright-able, so it seems unlikely that PETA will get anything but some publicity from this stunt (they’re suing for “all proceeds from the sale, licensing, and other commercial uses of the Monkey Selfies” to put the money toward conservation).