Grumpy Cat wins copyright case – not so grumpy anymore!
The owner of a world famous and perpetually grumpy feline has been awarded $710,000 (£500,000) in a copyright dispute over the use of the image and name ‘Grumpy Cat’. This is the first ever recorded case where a meme has been given legal rights, and a lawyer representing the cat’s owner stated in an interview that the verdict could set a legal precedent.
‘Grumpy Cat Limited’ was founded by the owner of Grumpy Cat in order to promote and protect the use of the Grumpy Cat brand.
A coffee company, ‘Grenade’, were granted the right to use this brand on the drink ‘grumpuccino’ in a deal worth $150,000. A dispute arose when Grenade started using Grumpy Cat’s image to launch a whole line of products. The result was that Grumpy Cat Limited sued Grenade for trademark infringement and breach of contract. A jury in California has now ruled that Grenade exceeded their authority in the use of this right and were in copyright infringement.
The cat, whose real name is Tardar Sauce, became famous in around 2012 after photos of her went viral online. Rumours, which the owner has denied, suggest that the cat is now worth an estimated $100 million. So the use of this brand is potentially big money.
As this is a US case it is not binding on English judges, though it is likely to be highly persuasive in future UK copyright disputes over the use of a meme.
In the UK, the purpose of copyright law is to reward authors for the creation of original works (i.e. works the author has expended independent effort to create). Infringement of copyright can result in civil and criminal repercussions.
In light of this decision, it will be interesting to see what developments could be in store for other memes. As ever, social media is a brave new world!