By Dan Stewart
Memes bubble up from the swamps of the internet every day, to be shared on Reddit message boards and Facebook walls alike. But how do people react to becoming the unwitting stars of shareable content? Some embrace their internet stardom, by trading off their minor celebrity. Others write thoughtful pieces exploring the pitfalls of online notoriety. But litigious memes head to court to protect, defend, or fight their sudden rise to fame. Here are seven memes who did just that:
1. and 2. Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat
These celebrity cats paired up to strike a blow for intellectual property rights this week by winning a lawsuit against corporate giant Warner Bros. Charlie Schmidt, creator of the Keyboard Cat video, and Christopher Torres, who designed the Nyan Cat meme, sued Warner and 5th Cell Media in April for using their creations in the game "Scribblenaughts" without permission — and claimed victory this week. Schmidt and Torres will now receive compensation for their work, and the famous felines will continue to appear in the game. They aren't the only litigious kitties on the web, however. Grumpy Cat recently lawyered up, and has vowed to swipe its claws at any would-be copyright infringer. "Never underestimate the power of cats on the internet," said Katie Van Syckle in New York.
3. Star Wars Kid
Ghyslian Raza became a meme back when BuzzFeed, YouTube, and Reddit were just twinkles in Father Internet's eye. A video showing the Canadian schoolkid battling invisible enemies wielding a makeshift "lightsaber" went viral in 2003 after his classmates posted it to the Kazaa file-sharing network (remember that?). His parents sued the families of those classmates for $250,000 for Raza's mental distress. Although Raza's folks feared he would be scarred for life, the former Jedi fantasist is doing just fine, now — acting as president of a conservation study, and a law graduate himself.
4. Epic Boobs Girl
Alix Bromley posted a picture of her sizeable decolletage on Bebo (remember that?) in 2006, but was alarmed to watch it become a meme on comment boards and chatrooms as a motivational poster with the words "Epic Boobs" beneath. Bromley attempted to sue British men's magazine Loaded in 2010 for a breach of privacy, for featuring the picture alongside an offer of $750 for anyone who could talk her into posing for the magazine. The country's Press Complaints Commission rejected her complaint, as the image had been widely disseminated online. Bromley reportedly went on to become a model, under the somewhat less ignominious nickname of Alix Boop.
5. Angry Hitler
Footage from the 2004 war drama Downfall showing a fictional Adolf Hitler ranting at his generals was repurposed by seemingly every YouTube user on earth in the late 2000s, with new subtitles making it seem like the Fuhrer was furious at everything from Obama's election to Kanye West's interruption at the 2009 VMA Awards. Sadly, creator Constantin Films was not as amused as the rest of us, and filed a copyright claim in 2010 to remove the jokes from the internet. Despite thesturm und drang, the videos kept on multiplying — and Constantin soon gave in, reportedly placing advertisements on some of them. Today, there's even a "My Fuhrer" Android app that allows you to make your own version.
The battle over "Technoviking" reaches back over a decade. Filmmaker Matthias Fritsch first uploaded a video of a topless, muscular raver he filmed at an outdoor party to his own website in 2001, and promptly forgot all about it. But the internet didn't, and the "Technoviking" became a YouTube phenomenon in 2007. Fritsch made around 10,000 euros leasing the clip to a few TV shows, and selling "Technoviking" T-shirts. Another two years passed before the bearded raver got in touch, suing the filmmaker for 250,000 euros. After years of legal wrangling, a court ordered Fritsch in June to re-edit the original video so the anonymous dancer can't be identified, and to pay him 8,000 euros. "What is the sense of it?" said the filmmaker, who plans to make a documentary about the courtroom battle. "The meme won't be banned from the web. In fact, it's just better known because of the big fuss that the plaintiff made."
7. Adam Holland
The parents of Adam Holland, who suffers from Down syndrome, are taking a legal stand against a trio of mean-spirited meme creators. Pamela and Bernard Holland are suing a Tampa radio station, Minnesota resident Russell LaLevee, and signgenerator.org for featuring a 2004 photo of Adam, then 17, holding up a picture he had drawn. The Tampa radio station replaced the picture with the words "Retarded News," while LaLevee posted a doctored version on Twitter. The website allows users to write their own text on the picture using a "Retarded Handicap Generator." If the defamation lawsuit is successful, that could spell bad news for meme generators — but good news for other reluctant internet stars. However, lawyer Woodrow Hartzog told The Daily Dot it would be a tough case to prove. "People who have been wronged or defamed [online] don't really have a good answer right now in the law," he said.
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