This is a letter to the Editor from Jared Goodman, director of Animal Law for PETA, in response to the Bison’s Oct. 29 article “Monkey selfie goes to court.”
The Oct. 29 commentary, “Monkey selfie goes to court,” shows that not everyone understands why the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is asking the U.S. federal court in San Francisco to declare that Naruto — a crested macaque living in Indonesia — is the author and owner of the now-famous “monkey selfie.” Please allow me to explain.
PETA’s purpose is to stop animal exploitation and suffering and will use all available opportunities to advocate for animals, including groundbreaking lawsuits and tireless pursuit of justice through the courts.
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. Naruto intentionally picked up the camera, understanding the cause effect of the shutter release and the change in his reflection in the lens, and took a series of photos. Like any other author of an original work, Naruto should be entitled to legal protection, and the proceeds from the photo should be going to protect the disappearing habitat and population of critically endangered crested macaques, whose species faces extinction by encroaching humans, because they’re being killed for bush meat and in retaliation for simply foraging for food.
Animals are breathing, feeling beings with families, dialects, intellect and emotions. Crested macaques recognize themselves in mirrors, use their hands and are observant and aware. Only conceit prevents us from recognizing this and giving them what rightly belongs to them.
Society evolves and history shows that the law evolves with it. The first cases seeking constitutional protections for African-Americans and women were laughed at and eventually dismissed. Much has changed since then and just as we look back with shame at a time when we persecuted other humans on the basis of gender, race or age, we will look back on our treatment of animals with incredulity and shame.
If this lawsuit succeeds, it will be the first time that a nonhuman animal is declared to be the owner of property, rather than just a piece of property, and will set the precedent for future lawsuits and other efforts to establish for animals the rights that they deserve. To learn more about the lawsuit and PETA’s efforts on behalf of animals everywhere, please visit www.PETA.org.