Woman Threatens Rep. Steve King With A Lawsuit For Using A 12-Year-Old Meme On His Facebook Page

from the nothing-more-sincere-than-selective-enforcement dept

No matter what your political leanings are, this is just a very dumb thing to do. (via BentFranklin in the Techdirt Chat window):

The mother of the boy in the iconic "Success Kid" meme has threatened to sue Representative Steve King for using her son's image in his campaign. In a series of tweets Monday, Laney Griner said she never gave his campaign permission to use the meme and called King a "vile man."

Griner claimed King used an infamous copyrighted image of her son Sam, a minor, to raise money in a fundraising campaign without her permission.

Here's the Facebook post by Rep. Steve King that got Griner so upset she's threatening to waste money on a losing lawsuit (via Eric Hananoki):

The post isn't smart or funny and suggests King's supporters can only meme effectively by using other people's money. It's unclear how much money is needed to trigger liberals with bad memes, but the number of emojis deployed suggests it might be a lot.

Griner demanded "immediate removal" of the pictures of her meme son. King's people complied. She also demanded King post an explanation stating that it was used without permission and for all donations resulting from the post be refunded to donors. It's unknown if this has happened.

She's also threatening a lawsuit, which seems like a really bad idea. Griner may not want her son associated with Rep. King (and really, who can blame her) but this also seems to be about something else: money.

"The majority of U.S. consumers reject your political and other views, often vehemently, as they have a right to do," Griner's attorney said in the cease-and-desist letter. "Those people may be repelled by any association with your politics and campaign and, therefore, unwilling to purchase products from legitimate licensees of the 'Success Kid' meme."

I'm not sure what the overlap between Steve King fans and people-who-buy-licensed-meme-goods is, but I'm guessing probably not enough to show any substantial loss in the income column. This is about politics, rather than unlicensed use, as Griner's tweets make perfectly clear.

It's highly unlikely anyone viewed Steve King's post and thought the 11-month-infant (who is now a 13-year-old boy) supports King and his extremely controversial views. Enforcing IP rights selectively is always a bad look -- one that makes rightsholders look opportunistic, rather than truly wronged by whatever incident has prompted the enforcement effort. According to Know Your Meme, there were 66,000 instances of the meme using her copyrighted photo at Quickmeme alone. And that was in 2011. No one's making any noise about these but when Steve King uses it, suddenly it's a whole thing.

This isn't about IP protection. It's about politically-expedient enforcement. Griney could have asked Steve King to take it down and told everyone how displeased she was with this use. But she didn't do that. She hired a lawyer, issued a cease-and-desist, and threatened a lawsuit. Sure, she's well within her rights. But she's not doing anything to erase the perception that copyright is a handy tool for censorship and the silencing of people you just simply don't care for.

Filed Under: copyright, licensing, memes, steve king, success kid, threats


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2020 @ 12:22pm

    Maybe she just has to spin it as being about money because that's the way the law is biased. If she comes into court with a complaint that's explicitly NOT about money, she's starting from scratch in showing that she's injured. If she comes in with a complaint that DOES talk about money, then the court sees it as familiar ground.

    Copyright is traditionally used as a vehicle for "censorship" of people who won't give you money. I'm not sure it makes a great deal of sense to privilege that particular use, especially when the copyright holder is a natural person as opposed to a corporation. But the fact is that the system DOES privilege that view.

    You try to use "politically expedient" as a pejorative. Why? Is there something inherently less respectable about protecting your political interests than about protecting your financial interests, using whatever rights or property you may have?

    ... and would it have been "censorship" if she'd prospectively issued a general license years ago saying "anybody can use this, except Steve King, because fuck that guy"?


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