Monkey Selfie Denied Copyright to World Famous Image

Introducing Naruto, the world famous animal-selfie photographer, in a shot taken from a series in 2011. On Wednesday, a federal court-ruling in San Francisco said that the monkey cannot be the copyright owner of the photos. David J. Slater / Wildlife Personalities Ltd

The photogenic monkey who became world famous for taking a selfie in 2011, is unable to reap the rewards of his viral fame.

A federal court-ruling in San Francisco, on Wednesday, said that Naruto the monkey, a then six-year-old-male living in a volcanic tropical forest in Indonesia, cannot be the copyright owner of the photos, reports The Guardian.

The case began on September 22, 2015, after animal-rights activist organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a court order, saying that all proceeds from the hilarious selfie should go towards the monkey, as well as any other macaques living in the reserve on the eastern Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

The group filed the case, citing the U.S. Copyright Act, on the basis that copyright ownership of a selfie is granted to the author of the photograph, PETA said in a post on their website.

But district judge William Orrick tentatively declined the groups request on Wednesday, saying that, while the U.S. government—Congress and the President of the United States of America—are able to extend laws of protection to animals as well as humans, there is no indication that they did so in the Copyright Act, the newspaper reports.

The story itself actually begins much earlier in the summer of 2011, when Naruto and 25 of his fellow monkey friends, grabbed British wildlife photographer David J. Slater's camera from him. "After some time," Slater writes on his website, "a few brave monkeys began to come closer, and slowly, but surely began paying me more attention."

Slater had originally traveled to the forest to take photographs that would bring the personality of the threatened monkeys in Sulawesi, formerly known as Celebes, to the public arena. Having set his camera on a self-timer, Slater describes in a post in 2011, one monkey grabbing his finger to take a few blurred green-and-brown forest shots.

Moments later, the fast-learner Naruto began "pressing the buttons and fingering the lens," —and soon after that the photos went viral and the battle for the rights commenced. The photographs have now been widely shared on worldwide media outlets, such as Wikipedia, who insist that the photograph "falls into the public domain" because "copyright cannot vest in non-human authors," the Wikimedia Foundation's transparent report reads.

Slater, though, argues that the photographs belong to his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd., the newspaper reports. In response to Orrick's declaration, Slater posted on Facebook on Thursday. He said: "The press insinuate U.K. copyright is different from U.S. copyright, when it isn't. My U.K. copyright is a fact and that should hold in the U.S."

"It is the thieves themselves, and them alone (including the press), who create the idea that there is somehow a loophole allowing them to use my images, often citing the U.S. Copyright Office in their defense of willful infringement," Slater posted.

He hasn't, though, commented about Naruto and his take on the situation. Unless the U.S. clarify whether their copyright laws extend to animals, the photographs remain in the public domain.