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Ex-US congressman Steve King's campaign loses appeal in meme copyright case

Post Time:2024-06-11 Source:Reuters Author:Blake Brittain Views:

June 7 (Reuters) - Former Iowa Republican U.S. congressman Steve King's election campaign on Friday lost its bid to overturn a copyright verdict for the mother of Sammy Griner, the toddler at the heart of the "Success Kid" internet meme, over the campaign's unauthorized use of the child's photo.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis upheld an Iowa jury's verdict that King's campaign owes Laney Griner $750 for misusing her photo of her son in campaign ads, rejecting its argument that it made fair use of the meme.

Attorneys for King's campaign and Griner did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision.

Laney Griner took the "Success Kid" photo of 11-month-old Sammy pumping his fist in 2007. Griner has since licensed the photo to companies including Coca-Cola and Microsoft to use in advertisements.

King lost his primary race for reelection in 2020 following criticism from both parties over his use of incendiary rhetoric involving immigration and other matters. His campaign used the "Success Kid" photo that year in posts asking for donations to "make sure the memes keep flowing and the Lefties stay triggered."

Griner filed her lawsuit later that year. An Iowa jury found that the campaign infringed Griner's copyright and should pay $750 in damages.

The campaign said in a brief that the lawsuit was a "publicity stunt." It argued that it had an implied license to the picture and made fair use of it.

"Memes are generally purpose-built for commentary and criticism, two well-known bedrocks of fair use," the campaign said.

A three-judge 8th Circuit panel on Friday ruled for Griner, finding that the factors for determining fair use weighed "heavily" in her favor.

"The Committee's stated justification is that they were creating and disseminating a meme on social media, as happens millions (if not billions) of times each day," U.S. Circuit Judge Duane Benton wrote. "The fact that 'everyone else is doing it' is not a particularly compelling justification, especially considering the vast majority of these uses are non-commercial."