Ermahgerd! Time for a memeified Facepalm to make even Grumpy Cat smile – that is, if Grumpy Cat wasn’t dead for the last 4 years. (Too soon?). Let’s talk about the surprising amount of litigation surrounding internet memes, litigation that almost always stems from a question hardly anyone things about – where do these things come from?
Memes have become one of the most popular ways to communicate online. Millennials view on average 20-30 memes per day, and over 1 million memes are shared daily on Instagram alone. That’s a lot of tea-sipping Kermits! And more than just a cultural phenom, memes are big business. In 2020, the global meme industry was valued at roughly $2.3 billion, and is projected to grow to $6.1 billion by 2025. Just one example of memenomics – the classic Doge meme sold as an NFT for $4 million and is now valued at $220 million (I’m feeling an NFT Facepalm is in the near future, because those numbers are just plain stupid).
So needless to say, with that much money on the line, litigation is abundant. In 2020, the mother and copyright owner of the omnipresent “Success Kid” meme sued former-Iowa Rep. Steve King for using her son’s image in a fundraising campaign. After three years of litigation, and despite a demand for $750 thousand, King was ordered to pay a measly $750 in damages. Not quite a meme-worthy success.
But other dank meme suits have put up some dank numbers. Take Chinese actor Ge You. An image of him slouching on a couch from a 1993 sitcom was memeified, and in fact came to epitomize China’s growing “lying flat” movement. Jaded youth have taken to rejecting the modern rat race in favor of doing the bare minimum to get by. Well, leave it to big business to manipulate the sincerely held social values of youth for a profit, as they appropriated Ge’s image for their various marketing campaigns. Ge has used the courts to fight back, suing over 540 businesses, from banks to airlines, for using his image without consent, and racking up $1.1 million in the process. Keep on lying flat and raking in money, Ge!