Wildlife photographer David Slater has braved some of the most inhospitable jungles around the world and has even been picked at by wild monkeys. However, nothing this British adventurer has done in the wild could have prepared him for the experience of being sued in the untamed American courts by an animal rights group, which is exactly what happened last year.
First, some background. In 2011, Mr. Slater was on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi photographing a species of monkeys called macaque. He was attracted to the animals because of what he describes as their “very human-like characteristics” and because they are very inquisitive and clever. Some of his pictures of them can be viewed on his website. Their inquisitiveness would ultimately attract the monkeys worldwide fame and, unfortunately, make Slater a target of a ridiculous lawsuit.
One day, while following a group of macaque, Slater put his camera on a tripod with a wide-angle lens and configured the settings such as predictive autofocus to give him a chance of a facial close up. As Mr. Slater explains, the monkeys seemed to love the shutter noise, and soon, they were grinning, grimacing and baring their teeth at themselves in the reflection of the large glassy lens.
Eventually, one of the monkeys pressed the shutter button while looking into the lens and captured a human-like smile that would charm everyone who saw it. The image went viral. In the weeks and months that followed, it did exactly what Slater had hoped it would do while he was trudging around the uncomfortable rainforest: raise awareness of the plight of this endangered species and provide him with some much-needed income. Slater holds a copyright on the photo that is valid in both the United States and the United Kingdom, and this is important for reasons mentioned below.
The photo eventually caught the attention of the group, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which went bananas and sued Slater. PETA claimed that the monkey in the photo, not Slater, owned the copyright to the image and should get any money generated by it.
However, Slater’s attorney, Andrew Dhuey, pointed out in his motion to dismiss the case that PETA’s “factual assertions regarding the creation of the famous Monkey Selfie Photograph” were erroneous. The image was captured only after Slater had worked meticulously to set it up.
While Slater’s work in making the photo possible is certainly important, frivolous lawsuits like this can sometimes be dismissed more quickly for other technical reasons. Therefore, his attorney argued that the monkey on whose behalf PETA was suing didn’t have legal standing. In short, he maintained that since Congress has not given non-human animals the right to sue for copyright infringement, the case should be tossed.
On January 6, federal judge William Orrick agreed and issued a proposed order granting the dismissal of the case. Case closed.
Well, maybe. NPR has reported that PETA is planning to keep fighting. And it has deep pockets.
While the hilarious image of the monkey in question has received worldwide attention, none of the reports on the judge’s action in this lawsuit have mentioned the fact that the photographer is British. This is relevant to the story because the lawsuit was filed in the United States, not Great Britain.
This kind of monkey business would never be tolerated in UK courts, or any other courts around the world for that matter. Unlike the United States, the UK has a “loser pays” legal system that would have required PETA to pay for Mr. Slater’s legal expenses if (when) it lost.
While anyone with common sense might look at this case and say PETA is foolish for filing it, the sad fact is that even PETA isn’t foolish enough to risk filing an outrageous lawsuit like this anywhere but the United States. And that should make every justice-loving American cringe.
Originally published on EpicTimes.com