Chances are you are familiar with some of the memes below. Have you ever wondered where those pictures actually came from? Some are of people who willingly posted their likeness on a social media site. Others are of normal people posting old photos on Facebook, not realizing that some random stranger was scouring the internet looking for funny photos to use for memes. Its totally expected to see celebrities turn into memes, but sometimes normal citizens become famous overnight. These now-famous faces even have meme names – “Scumbag Steve”, “Overly Attached Girlfriend”, “Bad Luck Brian”, “ERMAHGERD”, and “Success Kid”, to name a few.
“Scumbag Steve”‘s real name is Blake Boston, and his own mother actually took the photo of him when he was 16 that has made him a meme sensation.
“Overly Attached Girlfriend” is actually a woman named Laina Morris. She had willingly posted her image as a spoof to Justin Bieber’s song “Boyfriend”. She had no idea that her photo would become a meme that went viral over the internet. She now posts you tube videos and supposedly now earns a six figure income from her success.
“Bad Luck Brian” is really a guy named Kyle Craven, and that is his 7th grade yearbook photo. He posted it on Reddit and it instantly became popular. He now makes money from t-shirt sales of the famous pic.
“ERMAHGERD” is Maggie Goldenberger and was taken when she was 11 and playing dressup with her friends. A Reddit user found it when going through Facebook and created the meme. Vanity Fair published an article about her in 2015.
“Success Kid” is Sammy Griner, and the photo was taken by his mother on the beach when he was 11 months old. She then posted it on Flickr, where it went viral. Although he did not plan on becoming famous, he used his internet fame to raise $100,000 for his father’s expensive dialysis treatments and kidney transplant. Virgin Media bought the rights to it to use it on a Billboard in the UK, and it was also used in a Vitamin Water commercial.
There are some people who’s image is turned into a meme and they use their fame to gain notoriety or money, but others are upset and try to sue to have the images taken down, but often unsuccessfully.
I am honestly horrified that there is even the slightest chance of an unflattering photo of myself from grade school (heck even yesterday!) floating around the web for someone to turn into a meme. For people that like to live a private life, this seems like a nightmare. Without choosing it, the people mentioned above were thrown into a situation they didn’t ask for and now loads of people know who they are.
There are arguments about whether memes are an example of free speech, or if they are considered a form of cyberbullying.One family did sue and won a case when an image of their son, who has Down Syndrome, was turned into a cruel meme. According to one law firm’s website (aaronkellylaw.com), certain circumstances can validate a meme lawsuit:
- Publication of Private Facts / Information
- False Light
- Invasion of Privacy
- Copyright Infringement
- Unauthorized Use of Property
More lawsuits have happened with memes. Photos posted to a person’s social media page are their property and using that image is copyright infringement. But I guess if the meme is making money, it is easier for them to ride the wave and try to monetize from it than attempt to track down the person that stole the image. I do agree with people suing if the meme is cruel and unnecessary (as in the case above), or causes people to lose their job or mental/emotional distress.
The owners of the Grumpy Cat image have sued a coffee company over copyright infringement. Grenade Beverage had a licensing deal with the Grumpy Cat LLC but was selling unauthorized products with the brand image. The owners of Grumpy Cat own federal copyrights of his image and likeness.
It seems pretty easy these deals to steal someone else’s images from a site without asking for permission or give credit where credit is due. Copyright infringement is stealing. What do you think? Do you think it’s okay to use someone else’s photos for your own benefit? What if you were turned into a meme? Would you have fun with it or sue?