The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) claims that the legal action, which challenges UK photographer David Slater’s rights over the image, ‘could see the first-ever photo-property ownership for a non-human primate’.

In the lawsuit, filed by PETA US, the charity is seeking 100% of the proceeds from commercial use of the photo, ‘to benefit Naruto [the monkey] and his community’.

The charity wants the federal court to grant it the right to manage copyright and license the image.

Slater last year accused Wikipedia of breaching copyright over the image of the monkey by publishing it online without permission.

The online encyclopaedia argued that it was in the public domain because the monkey fired the shutter during the shoot in an Indonesian jungle.

But Slater insisted he held copyright in the same way a wildlife photographer would own an image when an animal fires the shutter remotely by crossing an infrared beam set up for that purpose.

PETA claims the animal ‘hijacked’ Slater’s camera gear to take ‘a few expert selfies of his own’.

Speaking today, Slater told Amateur Photographer (AP) that one of his legal advisors was ‘dumbfounded’ by the PETA lawsuit.

Slater said PETA did not contact him before filing its legal action.

He does not dispute that an animal can hold copyright, but he maintains that although it fired the shutter – via a cable release – the photographer set up the jungle shoot, so he retains copyright.

Slater says he is ‘not scared’ about the PETA lawsuit and believes it may now be too late to file such a ‘stupid’ claim.

However, he conceded that the lawsuit, which he is expecting to land on his doormat any day now, is ‘causing me some stress’.

The photographer is more concerned he will be forced to take time off work to attend the hearing in the US, and the associated costs, which could run to several thousands of pounds.

‘I still hold true that it’s my copyright,’ he told AP.

On its website, PETA claims: ‘The decision in this case could be the first time that a non-human animal has ever been declared the owner of property, rather than being declared a piece of property.

‘We could consequently witness a ground-breaking step forward in society – the acknowledgement that animal rights should be recognised for the sake of animals and not for the exploitative benefit of humans.’