“Successful Kids” Sammy Griner’s emoji pack has been popular online for years, according tomedia outlet The Verge. His mother recently sent a “no-notice” to Rep. Steve King. Sammy’s mother, Laney Griner, called Steve King a “bad guy” because he used inspirational images of the fist-clenching boy as part of his fundraising efforts. Laney Griner said she would sue the Iowa Republican for copyright infringement. But the copyright law around online celebrity memes is a grey area.
“Congressman King and his campaign stole the image of the ‘successful child’ without my permission,” Griner tweeted Monday. I don’t agree with King’s approach, and like most people, I strongly disagree with him. “
The “Successful Kids” image appeared in an online ad on the campaign donation platform WinRed, asking for donations to “fund our memes.” Griner retweeted a screenshot of the image posted on King’s official Facebook page. As of Tuesday morning, the post could not be found on King’s page.
Griner and her lawyers asked King to remove any “successful child” images from websites related to him or his campaign by 9 a.m. on Wednesday and display a 90-day notice of unauthorized use of the image on any website where memes appeared. They also want to see all the money raised using the image, refundable donations, and having King notify donors that “successful kids” have nothing to do with King or his campaign.
The “prohibition notice” states that if the conditions are not met, Griner will sue King, WinRed and the King campaign team.
King did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The following is a copy of the “Prohibition Notice Letter” provided to The Verge by Griner’s lawyer:
Griner first uploaded an image on the 2007 Flickr page of then 11-month-old Sammy eating sand on the beach, with a firm expression on his face. The following year, the photo began to appear on MySpace, usually titled “I Hate Sandcastle.” Later, it became a “advice animal” meme, used to represent victory over obstacles, and evolved into the so-called “Success Kid” meme.
The “prohibition notice” states that Griner registered the copyright for the image in 2012 after it was first licensed to Getty. Since then, it has been allowed to be used in various television ads, and Obama’s campaign used it in 2013 as part of an immigration reform campaign. Moreover, Grine sued a fireworks company for using the image without permission in 2015.
“Our clients have a long history of licensing ‘successful kids’ to legitimate advertisers,” Griner’s attorney wrote in a letter to King. Unlike you and your campaign, they follow the law, giving our customers the opportunity to approve or disapprove their use, bargaining for licenses, and paying for their legally acquired rights. “
The legal question of who owns the memes has not been fully proven; several high-profile lawsuits have been settled or dismissed before the trial. In March, plaintiff Olorunfemi Coker filed a lawsuit against Jerry Media, alleging that @fuckjerry’s Instagram account used the meme to promote tequila to infringe his copyright; In June, the right-wing website Infowars reached a settlement with Matt Furie, author of the artist Pepe The Frog image. He accused the site of infringing his copyright by selling posters with Pepe images. Infowars agreed to pay Furie $15,000 and stop using the image.
Meredith Rose, a policy lawyer at Public Knowledge, a non-profit organization, says the question of who owns memes remains vague. Rose says that if the image propagates quickly and the image owner does n’up, the image owner implies that any use can be made. This theory is called “implied licensing”.
But Griner has used the copyright of “Successful Kids” to proactively control where and how it appears. Rose said that as copyright owner, Griner has the right to prevent any use of “successful child” images. “What’s interesting to me is that she’s clearly managed the license and made a series of decisions about who can use it,” she says. “
In a similar case, a picture of a penguin in National Geographic went viral because of the “Socially Awkward Penguin” model. The National Geographic authority, Getty Images, has repeatedly asked websites that use the image without their permission to pay for their use.
“Usually, copyright owners have their own discretion about how to use their images,” says Rose. Therefore, most copyright holders will not pay attention to the owner or amateur who may technically infringe the copyright edit. Although most people think that the rational use of images should be “Did you make money from it?” This criterion is determined, but Rose says it’s more of a social or moral judgment than a legal statement.