Opining about online harassment is the new black. Media outlets – from the respectable to the tawdry – have rhapsodized about cyberbullying’s effect on society, and part of the conversation has focused on a 21st-century phenomenon – “the graphic meme.”
Some folks say memes are a matter of free speech; other people believe they’re noxious forms of cyberbullying. The war rages on – in perpetuity. But for those of you keeping score, Team Regulation recently won a courtroom battle.
Meme Leads To Lawsuit
These days, so-called “memes” are as ubiquitous as Starbucks cafes. Some are funny, some are try-hard, and some are just cruel. The unfortunate part of the “mean meme formula” is that innocent people are turned into “meme-lebrities” by no fault – or force – of their own. It can cause a lot of heartache and damaging consequences. Think about it: would you hire “Sc*mbag Steve”? (OK, OK – YOU would, but other people aren’t as generous.)
Boy and Family Sue Over A Meme
Recently, the parents of a boy with Down syndrome decided to fight back against the Meme Army. Apparently, a picture of their son made its way online, someone got a hold of it, and long story short, within days, the young man’s picture became the backbone of a viral meme. The mocking was ruthless and unrelenting. According to the boy’s parents, the constant barrage of jeering caused their son harm – so, they decided to be legal trailblazers and sued over the offense.
Court Sides With Plaintiff In Meme Lawsuit
When word of the lawsuit first hit, a lot of people assumed a judge would toss the case. But much to the surprise of the proverbial peanut gallery, a judge and jury sided with the boy, to the tune of $150,000.
When asked about the claim, the father explained, “We are in favor of the First Amendment. [But] This is just mean. This is just people being mean.”
Can You Successfully Sue Over A Meme That Features Your Picture?
Does this ruling mean that anyone who unwittingly becomes the central figure in a meme has grounds for a successful lawsuit? No, not really. Maybe, but not really. Like all lawsuits, this case turned on the details – details that happened to work for the plaintiff. That said, the ruling does clear a path for more “meme lawsuits.” People looking to pursue a similar claim should consult with an Internet law attorney.
Does this ruling mean that anyone can sue over a meme? No, not really. Maybe, but not really.
Torts that can, possibly, be used in a “meme lawsuit”:
- Publication of Private Facts / Information
- False Light
- Invasion of Privacy
- Copyright Infringement
- Unauthorized Use of Property
Talk About Your Meme Situation With An Internet Law Attorney
Please understand: there is no guarantee that any of the above torts will work. Viability is based on jurisdiction and case specifics. The best thing to do is talk to a lawyer. He or she will be able to determine the most effective course of action for your specific situation and if you have grounds to sue over a meme.
Interested in speaking to an Internet lawyer about a potential “meme lawsuit”? Contact Internet law attorney, Aaron Kelly.