By Robin Hammond
How to monetize a meme: Step 1: stumble upon an Internet sensation; Step 2: pursue IP rights immediately and vigilantly.
It is clear who would win in a fight between Grumpy Cat and Technoviking. It is also clear who has won in the realm of Intellectual Property (“IP”) rights. Technoviking is a man who was thrust into internet fame by a viral video on youtube.com. Grumpy Cat is a genetically abnormal cat, which achieved similar notoriety through reddit.com. Both cases illustrate the benefits of prompt IP right designations.
This month the owners of Grumpy Cat filed a suit against Grenade Beverages LLC. The complaint alleges, “Defendants’ despicable misconduct here has actually given Grumpy Cat and her owners something to be grumpy about.” The plaintiffs allege Grenade went beyond the scope of its licensing agreement, broke its contractual obligations, and cybersquatted by running websites that profited through the unauthorized use of Grumpy Cat’s trademarks and copyrights.
Grumpy Cat Limited is seeking damages of up to $150,000 for each copyright infringement, damages for the infringement and dilution of its trademark, and another $100,000 for exploiting the domain name grumpycat.com, which is owned by Grenade Beverages.
The complaint states Grumpy Cat Limited granted a limited license for Grumpy Cat branded iced-coffee beverages called “Grumpy Cat Grumppuccino” and other products could be produced by Grenade if authorized by Grumpy Cat Limited. In exchange, Grenade agreed to pay royalties, as well as an advance against those royalties. However, Grenade produced an assortment of “Grumpy Cat” products, “and bought and operated two websites: drinkgrumpycat.com and grumpycat.com. These websites currently state “GRUMPY CAT COFFEE PRODUCTS ARE TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE.” The complaint further alleges that Grenade previously broke licensing agreements with another business, E & J Gallo Winery, thus establishing a pattern of intellectual property rights violations.
Technoviking has similar internet notoriety, but failed to monetize his fame. In contrast to Grumpy Cat’s $100 million dollar empire, the man known as Technoviking has received very little from the proliferation of his image and likeness, which includes t-shirts, stickers, key chains, mugs, and decals from Cafepress, Redbubble, Zazzle, and Bonanza.
As an individual, Technoviking has been unsuccessful in stopping the proliferation of his image on the Internet. In 2000, artist Matthias Fritsch recorded a celebrant at a German techno festival and deemed him Technoviking. Fritsch secretly recorded the video and uploaded it to YouTube several years later. He received profits from YouTube due to the video’s popularity. From then, Technoviking’s likeness has been used across the Internet, including as a popular meme. In 2003, the man known as Technoviking successfully sued Fritsch to recover the YouTube profits, as well as some legal costs. However, this amounted to approximately €15,000. The suit has done little to curb the spread of Technoviking’s image, nor the derivative works available for sale across the Internet.
The moral of these two stories of internet fame is to immediately pursue IP rights before one’s image moves across the world.