MONKEY BUSINESS IN THE SERENGETI
BY Angelo Fernando
I’m no wildlife photographer. I just stick to shooting spiders, hummingbirds and the occasional monkey. While spiders aren’t fussy about a macro lens being within a nose-hair of their furry legs, monkeys are more unpredictable.
Like their distant cousins, I guess.
They will bare their teeth and parts of their under-carriage more than any self-respecting Victoria’s Secret model. It is no accident that the book Naked Ape was such a hit in the 1960s among us humans.
You see, monkeys are self-conscious, photogenic creatures. And that’s where the problem lies. For instance, if monkeys get hold of a camera they could behave awkwardly like teenagers, right down to the business of selfies.
This came to mind when I heard about a case of an animal rights organisation that tried to sue a publishing company for copyright infringement on behalf of its client – a monkey. And I’d appreciate it if you would keep a straight face and an open mind as we proceed with this case.
I understand that monkeys are higher in the pecking order than say honey bees or hummingbirds, but to allow a monkey to have its day in court strikes me as taking matters too far.
Here’s a legal thumbnail of the case…
One day, a British wildlife photographer found monkeys scampering up to his camera that was set up on a tripod in the jungle. A monkey not only prodded the device but pushed the shutter and took a picture of itself. Voila! A monkey selfie!
The photographer then published the picture in a book.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) almost blew a gasket and took him to court on the premise that the monkey should be treated as the rightful owner of the copyright of the selfie. The nature photographer David Slater disagreed and said that to “imagine a monkey as the copyright ‘author’ in Title 17 of the United States Code is a farcical journey Dr. Seuss might have written.”
Though I hadn’t heard of Title 17, I’ve read plenty of Dr. Seuss’ books and I had to agree with him.
For instance, books about Horton the schizophrenic elephant and a cat in an outsized hat may be farcical but they are definitely entertaining. And to keep this article politically correct, I won’t mention ‘farcical’ in the same sentence as the name of the new President of the United States.
So back to monkeys and copyright…
The case about animal selfies isn’t new. National Geographic has a one-hour special on the concept. It tries “to catch them in the act” as it explains in the blurb, saying it busted out every tool “from camera traps to… perfectly camouflaged blinds, to even letting the animals take command and do the filming themselves.”
Immediately below is a warning that the website uses “first and second party cookies to improve our service.” Meaning NatGeo will track anyone involved in animal voyeurism.
But I fearlessly pressed on, and that’s when I discovered the Serengeti project in which researchers had set up 225 cameras throughout the Serengeti in Tanzania. “Cameras capture it all – monkey selfies, hippo rear ends, birds attempting to…” But since this family-friendly column is also read in a convent in Havelock Town, I ought to stop quoting the website.
In all seriousness however, the Serengeti science project is legitimate and has a Harvard University connection. The rest of the quote is about cameras that caught “birds attempting to eat the cameras and a gazelle posing for a family portrait.” And I swear I’m not making this up.
Now if I was representing Nikon, I’d ask my client to sue the daylights out of the camera-eating bird species. Or sell the gazelle pose to People magazine, which must have surely had enough of Lady Gaga by now.
A word of caution – in case you are considering venturing into this animal-selfie territory, here’s a health warning: avoid selfies with snakes because they aren’t putting up with this vanity – at least in India. And believe me, Indian snakes call the shots.
Ashok Bishnoi in Rajasthan tried taking a selfie with a large python that was captured in a school. A few people posed with the snake draped around them and waited, while Ashok walked up with his hand held high holding his phone in classic selfie mode. And that’s when the python attacked him!
“This is entirely my fault,” explained Bishnoi – translation: “I should have used a selfie stick.”
Sadly the story ends there. Meaning the victim did not haul the python to court or vice versa. Nor did Samsung sponsor Ashok’s selfie as it did with the one taken by Ellen DeGeneres at the Oscars – and that was a thousand times less eventful.
And even if he did sue the python, I’m sure Indian jurisprudence leaves plenty of wiggle room for such plaintiffs.