Bizarre monkey selfie lawsuit has left a man broke

David Slater is behind the iconic photo, but says it's ruined his life.
David Slater is behind the iconic photo, but says it's ruined his life. Photo credit: David Slater

In what is surely a world first, a man has found himself nearly broke after becoming embroiled in a lawsuit over a monkey selfie.

Naruto, the monkey behind an iconic and controversial selfie, is at the centre of a strange legal battle that refuses to die.

British photographer David Slater set up the photo on a trip to Indonesia in 2011, when he trained monkeys to press the shutter on his camera and take a selfie.

Since then, he's had to pay thousands in legal fees and has struggled to find work after animal rights group PETA took him to court.

PETA claims that legally the famous photograph and all of its proceeds belong to the monkey who took it - Naturo the macaque.

Mr Slater told The Telegraph his life has been ruined by the legal battle over the photo. "I am just not motivated to go out and take photos any more. I've had outlays of several thousand pounds for lawyers, it is losing me income and getting me so depressed. When I think about the whole situation I really don't think it's worth it."

At a court hearing in San Francisco on Thursday, Mr Slater's lawyers told the court that it was "absurd" for PETA to say a monkey could sue for copyright infringement, because a monkey could not benefit financially from its artistic work.

In a statement on Monday, PETA said Naruto should be allowed to assert his right as the legal and copyright owner of the selfie. "Naruto - who has been accustomed to cameras throughout his life - saw himself in the reflection of the lens, drew the connection between pressing the shutter release and the change in his reflection, and made different facial expressions while pressing the shutter release," the statement reads.

Mr Slater says he doesn't regret setting up the monkey selfie, saying it's gained publicity for macaque monkeys around the world. According to PETA, numbers of crested macaques have decreased by approximately 90 percent over the past 25 years due to poaching and habitat destruction.

PETA claim that proceeds from Naruto winning the rights to the photo would benefit the monkey and his community.