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 @ 11:25am

    Rather than going to civil court, perhaps it would be better to use the court of public opinion. Not that these people are capable of feeling shame but there is some satisfaction in shining the light on them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2020 @ 11:27am

    Abolish copyright entirely. It is an afront to the 1st ammendment and everything that it stands for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. 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"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 5 Feb 2020 @ 12:26pm

    Bad Idea

    Copyright Infringement Litigation over memes is the #1 way on how to kill a meme. It won't always work (just ask Matt Furie who sued over Pepe becoming a hate symbol) but if using a meme is a legal liability, there's a far lower chance that it'll be used.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Feb 2020 @ 12:27pm

    Congrats on the own-goal there

    By demanding money after they'd taken the image down she just made it trivial to paint here and other 'liberals' as just after the money, and provided a perfect way for King to fundraise by pointing out that she's threatening to sue and if King's supporters want to help out they should give him more money to defend himself with.

    Honestly, I'd love to learn that this was just a stupid stunt put in place by King and his team, because the alternative is that she is so blinded by money and/or stupid that she just did his advertising for him.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Feb 2020 @ 12:34pm

    Re:

    If she comes in with a complaint that DOES talk about money, then the court sees it as familiar ground.

    That argument's been tried before by copyright extortionists, it failed then, it will almost certainly fail now. 'They could have paid me but didn't' does not harm make, because not all uses of content requires payment, and arguing otherwise would effectively destroy fair use.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2020 @ 12:39pm

    Re: Re:

    First, what she's claiming is that other people ARE paying her, and King's actions are likely to prevent that, effectively damaging the value of her property.

    Second, one of the prongs of the fair use test is whether the use impairs the market for the work, so the issue is already baked into the concept of fair use from the get-go.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2020 @ 1:38pm

    So people dont really get whats going in here. Shes never gone after anyone for success kid memes, she has successfully negotiated the use of success kid however by companies in things like advertising and is argueing the republican isnt actually using the success kid in a meme. Its merely posting a picture of him and saying donate! As she does not sgree with his message she is saying he is using it in a damaging way, no different from how certain bands have said "yeah you cant use our music at your rally". Even if it is available free elsewhere lile spotify or radio.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Feb 2020 @ 1:40pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    'People who are paying me now might realize that they might not have to pay me' does not 'harm' make. Just because some people might be paying her does not mean everyone has to(or even that all of those who have paid her had to), and making this clear in a court case is not in any way 'impairing the market for the work', it's simply making clear that not all use requires payment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2020 @ 2:29pm

    What would happen if someone were to use the likeness of steve king in a donation request poster for gay rights organizations?

    Would they try to use publicity rights? Well, if they try that why does this child not have any publicity rights - after all the kid is probably more well known that steve king is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Avatar28 (profile), 5 Feb 2020 @ 3:11pm

    Re:

    Except that bands technically have no real say on if someone uses their music at a rally or whatever. They might not like it and they should definitely make it known that they don't endorse it and aren't okay with it but at the end of the day compulsory licensing means that as long as the venue is paying their appropriate PRO licensing fees they're free to play basically whatever music they want. Most candidates will back down when called out on it by the artist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2020 @ 4:47pm

    Re:

    Not originally, but with the way things are, copyright has devolved to the point where John fucking Steele is its mascot, and that is a pretty low level to sink to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 5 Feb 2020 @ 4:49pm

    Re: What would happen if someone were to use the likeness of ste

    What would happen is...nothing.

    Mr. King might not like a gay rights organization doing that, but there's nothing under the law he could do to stop them.

    IMHO, that's as it should be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2020 @ 5:04pm

    Re: Re: What would happen if someone were to use the likeness of

    He would not try the all popular publicity rights claim?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2020 @ 5:53pm

    Re: Re:

    Except... they do. Groups have gotten in trouble for this very thing.

    The thing is this is the same thing, this is a photo that has been protected and licensed, and peoples transformative use of it for a meme has been left untouched... but this use of it to solicit donations is NOT sanctioned by the copywrite holder of the photo. Basically as far as this kind of thing goes, it's how you do it correctly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2020 @ 2:27am

    Meh

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Irv Rubin, 6 Feb 2020 @ 6:56am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Groups have gotten in trouble...?

    Proof or GTFO!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2020 @ 10:21am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    There may have been some serious finger wagging

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2020 @ 10:15am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Try Brown v. McCain, for instance

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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