Revenge of the Memes

February 3, 2016

If you use social media, you’re familiar with memes.  Even if you don’t know what a meme is, you scroll by them every day on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites and apps.  Webster’s dictionary defines “meme” as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.”  The more culturally relevant and commonly used “meme” is an internet meme, which is an image of a person or animal with a funny or witty caption that spreads through social media sites like wildfire and reaches millions of people all over the country, and even the world.
For example, you may have seen the “Side Eyeing Chloe” meme – a picture of a little girl in her car seat making a concerned face.  The story behind the picture is that Chloe’s parents surprised their two daughters, Lily and Chloe, with a surprise trip to Disneyland.  Lily reacts with tears and excitement, while Chloe looks unenthused.  The parents uploaded the video to YouTube, and now, two years later, the video has more than 13 million views.  Chloe’s hilarious facial reaction to her older sister’s excitement can be found all over the internet now, photoshopped into other iconic photos such as the Mona Lisa and onto celebrities’ bodies.  As a matter of fact, there was a 2013 Buzzfeed article by now-famous Buzzfeed personality, Matt Bellasai, compiling all of the memes Chloe’s face had become.  Chloe’s parents have been good sports with their young daughter’s internet fame, but many other people who have become memes – some call them Living Memes – do not have the same “it’s all fun and games” reaction to their face going viral.
In late January, news broke that Dancing With The Stars dancing professional Val Chmerkovskiy was being sued by a “living meme,” whose picture he shared to his Facebook with a caption saying, “Letting your kid become obese should be considered child abuse.”  The girl is seen drinking a soda, and it has been revealed that she has Down syndrome, although Chmerkovskiy did not mention this in his post, and it’s unclear if he was aware of this.  Even though Chmerkovskiy wasn’t the photographer who snapped the picture or the person who created the meme more than a year ago, the parents who filed the lawsuit are most concerned with the over 350,000 followers Chmerkovskiy “shared” the photo to.  They have also named CBS, who shared the post, and the original photographer as defendants.
Chmerkovskiy’s lawsuit isn’t the first claim by a living meme.  One of the first living memes is known as “Star Wars Kid,” who, ten years ago, made a private video of himself clumsily swinging around a homemade lightsaber, which was uploaded to the internet by classmates.  The “Star Wars Kid” and his family brought a lawsuit against the four classmates who posted the video online, and the parties eventually settled outside of court for an undisclosed amount.
So far, U.S. judges haven’t decided a case regarding these living memes, but it seems that more of these cases are hitting the courts as memes on social media become more prevalent.  Until we know how the court will treat these lawsuits, be careful who you meme and what you share (if you have hundreds of thousands of followers).