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Can you sue over a meme? Turns out, you can.


The Courts and technology have had an interesting relationship over the last two decades as new developments such as camera phones, smaller concealed listening devices, and social media sharing have changed how we view privacy.  With that in mind, it was only a matter of time before memes became a legal issue.  Memes have become a social phenomena and are everywhere.  Sometimes funny, sometimes distasteful, and sometimes causing litigation.

Late last month, the mother of a young girl who has been diagnosed with Down syndrome filed suit against “Dancing with the Stars” professional Valentin Chmerkovskiy and CBS Corp., among others, alleging that they caused a distasteful meme of her daughter to go viral.  The meme is based on a picture taken in 2008 at a minor league baseball game.  The picture depicts a young girl drinking what appears to be a “sugary” drink near a concessions stand (the picture shall not be re-posted here out of respect for the family).  The picture was captioned, “Letting your kid become obese should be considered child abuse.”

Over the past year, CBS News and Mr. Chmerkovskiy have allegedly posted this photo to either a website or a social media account.  The picture was then discovered by the family who, allegedly, requested that Mr. Chmerkovskiy remove the picture from his Facebook page.  Following these posts, the picture has gone viral.  The family’s lawsuit claims that the posting of this meme was “intentional, deliberate, and malicious” and is seeking over $12 million dollars in compensation for invasion of privacy, misappropriation, infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and punitive damages.

Now this is not the first meme related lawsuit in the United States.  Many famous memes and online videos such as Star Wars Kid and Keyboard Cat have sued to recover for emotional distress and unauthorized use.  What might surprise people is that these lawsuits have oftentimes resulted in settlement, meaning, the alleged victims have received compensation as a result of their likeness or work going viral.  But the question remains, should they?  What are the damages, if any?  And, if someone is responsible for posting the image to their Facebook page, should anyone who shares it also be responsible?  These are questions that should be asked as they will likely be addressed further in the coming years as we live in a world where a single photograph can be shared the world over in under a day and, sometimes, that image may be immensely embarrassing or upsetting to the individual involved.

If you or someone you know has a potential legal dispute, contact one of the experienced attorneys at Hipskind & McAninch, LLC, for a FREE consultation: 618.641.9189 | 314.312.2930 | info@hm-attorneys.com

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