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Beware of primates bearing lawsuits, says Danny Wallace

"The chimpanzee put on a big toothy grin. It was a treat to behold"

Beware of primates bearing lawsuits, says Danny Wallace
23 May 2018

I have become very interested indeed in the tale of a macaque monkey named Naruto who accidentally took a selfie on a man’s camera seven years ago.

If anything, I have become too interested.

The selfie was absolutely wonderful and the man with the camera, a British photographer named David Slater, was delighted. He returned from the jungles of Indonesia with a terrific picture of a smiling monkey. One so good he decided to put it in his book.

But guess what? When he did, there was uproar from the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals. Peta had found out about the picture, and was not happy with Mr Slater putting it in his book.

Not. At. All.

Because as far as it was concerned, Naruto had put considerable time and effort into all of this. Not Slater, who had slaved away for years, travelled all the way to Indonesia and gained the trust of the monkeys over a three-day trek into the jungle.

No. Naruto did the hard work. Naruto took the picture. Naruto should be the copyright holder.

I’m not sure if they assumed Naruto would be as furious as they seemed to be. It is unlikely he felt hard done by, lacking as he did even the most rudimentary understanding of capitalism, technology or ever-evolving copyright infringement laws.

It is unlikely he even knew his name was Naruto.

But Naruto, said Peta, deserved royalties for his art and financial control of the proceeds. He could buy himself something pretty, or perhaps start his own studio.

Read more: That monkey-selfie lawsuit is finally over (for real this time)

It is unclear whether they ever discussed with Naruto the possibility of him representing himself in court. It would seem the fair thing to do. I’d have thought that Naruto should be given the chance to explain to the judge – in his own words, and as clearly as possible – his artistic process and his thoughts on the personal and legal ramifications of Slater’s selfish actions. But fair play to him; Naruto has maintained a dignified silence.

And I raise all this because I too have been the dignified and silent victim of primate-based copyright infringement. So I know all too well the mental anguish poor Naruto must have gone through.

For once, years ago, I took a selfie with a chimpanzee. It was a good selfie, particularly because I playfully moved the chimpanzee’s right hand to cover my mouth (which I would not recommend, as I discovered moments later what it is they also use that hand for). The chimpanzee, perhaps sensing it had to bring something to the table, put on what looked like a big toothy grin. Honestly, it was a treat to behold. We both looked like little smashers. The only slightly dodgy thing about it was the positioning of the chimpanzee’s other hand.

A dirtier mind than yours might assume it was in some part having its way with me.

Anyway, it went online, because what doesn’t? And I forgot about it. Until, that is, some time later, when I started to receive strange reports. Apparently, I had acted oddly with an ape? In Egypt? I was fairly sure I hadn’t, but then, you never know.

It wasn’t until a friend returned from that distant and mysterious land having seen something that he found so unusual and disconcerting that the reality of the situation fully hit me: someone in an Egyptian creative agency had obviously been Googling ‘funny monkey pictures’ and stumbled across my chimp selfie. What’s more, they had thought it wonderful. It was absolutely perfect for their needs!

Which is how a picture of me and a chimpanzee ended up plastered across giant billboards all over North Africa as part of a major advertising campaign for a holiday resort I had never been to and to this day do not endorse.

Luxor. Alexandria. Cairo. I was everywhere. No Egyptian could escape being treated to that massive picture of Danny Wallace being molested by a chimpanzee.

So let me ask you: where was Peta that day? Where was my day in court? That said, I need to be very careful here. By raising this story from my past I am opening myself up to all sorts of legal worries regarding what might very well turn out to be the shared ownership of ‘my’ photo. The last thing I need is a legal letter from a chimpanzee demanding 50 per cent of the non-existent fee I received from the Egyptians. Because not until recently did I realise quite how litigious primates can be.

There is hope for me, though.

A US court has just ruled that copyright law does not ‘expressly authorise animals to file copyright infringement suits’. So if a squirrel sprints across your iPhone and somehow takes a picture, he can’t sue you.

Though if anyone should sue, it should be me. And I don’t mean sue the Egyptians.

It may now be a historical crime, but I’m fairly sure I have photographic evidence of sexual harassment at the unhygienic hands of a chimpanzee.

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