A selfie taken by a monkey is the subject of a copyright suit brought by PETA against the human photographer who claims the rights. Whether an animal can hold a copyright to a work is now a subject for the courts to decide.

Can a monkey take a selfie? The answer to that question appears to be an unequivocal yes, based upon the subject matter of the lawsuit. Photographer David J. Slater was taking pictures of endangered crested macaques in Indonesia when he left his tripod unattended for a period of time. The monkeys sprung into action, playing with the camera and taking a series of "monkey selfies," and one, snapped by a monkey named Naturo, went viral.

The bigger question now is whether a monkey can hold a legal copyright to a selfie. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, believes it can, and is suing on behalf of the monkey in question.

PETA's lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, states that: "While the claim of authorship by species other than homo sapiens may be novel, authorship; under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., is sufficiently broad so as to permit the protections of the law to extend to any original work, including those created by Naruto."

Even though the pictures were taken abroad, PETA claims the U.S. has jurisdiction since Slater's book, including the picture, was published in California.

Slater, who has actually worked with PETA in the past, responded on Facebook, stating, "I am obviously bemused at PETA's stunt but also angry as well as sad. This makes animal welfare charities look bad which saddens me, deflecting away from the animals and onto stunts like this."

Meanwhile, Wikimedia, which owns Wikipedia in addition to other sites, also questions Slater's rights to the picture, but disputes the idea that Naruto owns the copyright, insisting that a work created by an animal cannot be copyrighted at all, and thus falls into the free use privilege of material in the public domain. Wikimedia features the photo on its websites.

The crux of the issue seems to be over the definition of "authorship" as defined in U.S. copyright law. Some legal analysts feel authorship by definition only applies to humans, which would invalidate the lawsuit. It will be interesting to follow developments of the suit as it makes its way through the legal system.

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