A federal jury has found former Congressman Steve King was not personally liable for copyright infringement when his campaign used the “Success Kid” online meme in a
fundraising ad in 2020.
QCTimes.com reports jurors found that King's campaign, King for Congress, did infringe on the photo's copyright but did so without knowing it was infringement. King for Congress must pay $750 in damages to the photo's owner, Laney Griner.
Griner and her son, Sam, sued King and his campaign, King for Congress, for using the meme in a Jan. 27, 2020, fundraising ad that appeared on King’s Facebook and campaign pages during the Republican's unsuccessful run for re-election in Iowa’s Fourth District.
The popular meme, which has been used worldwide and has become a symbol for achievement, earning the nickname Success Kid, contains a photo of 11-month-old Sam with a determined look on his face and a fistful of sand held up near his face. Laney took the photo in 2007 at a beach near their Jacksonville, Florida, home and copyrighted it in 2012 to control how it was used and stop people from using it for commercial purposes, reported QCTimes.com.
The Sioux City Journal reported that after more than a year and a half of litigation and four days of trial in a federal courtroom, Griner was awarded $750 in damages for her lawsuit claiming King and his campaign had used her son's image in a Success Kid meme in a fundraising ad without permission.
The eight-member jury found King did not infringe upon the copyright himself. However, jurors found his campaign committee, King for Congress, did infringe on the copyright, but did so unknowingly. The jury also found in Sam Griner's claim for invasion of privacy that King for Congress did not use the photo without his consent, though Griner and his mother both testified no one from the campaign had sought their permission to use it.
The jury's damage award, the statutory minimum, was levied against King for Congress. How the inactive campaign will pay is not clear. King, a Republican from Kiron, testified he's been loaning his own money to King for Congress to pay for the legal defense against the lawsuit. King and his campaign could have been hit with $150,000 damage judgments had the jury ruled completely in the Griners' favor.
But this wasn’t just any commercial dispute between a copyright owner and those who have retweeted, reposted, or reused a viral meme.
It was really all about politics.
Regular CHQ readers and friends will recall that Rep. King was locked in a tough reelection contest after he was targeted by the establishment House Republican leadership for comments about illegal aliens and other deviations from the Washington Swamp’s narratives.
The DesMoines Register reported Ms. Griner stated in her lawsuit’s pleadings, "Laney and Sam were both horrified to learn that Defendant has used Laney’s photograph of Sam and Sam’s likeness as campaign propaganda for King, someone whose statements and beliefs they find abhorrent."
The Sioux City Journal reported Mr. King's lawyer, Michael Blankenship, provided jurors a financial statement, showing King received just $28.92 in revenue from WinRed on the day the Success Kid meme was displayed.
King, who testified he didn't know what a meme was until the lawsuit was filed, said the suit was politically motivated, and he didn't back down from that contention after the verdict.
"It's nuts for people to come from New York, California (states where Griner's lawyers were from) and Florida, you've got three-quarters of the country there, to federal court in Sioux City to have a trial over $28," King said. "That's a sophisticated operation. They are copyright trolls. It's an industry."
In his closing argument to the jury, Blankenship called the lawsuit a marketing campaign by Griner.
"This is an attempt to revive a dying brand," Blankenship said of the photo that has attracted little to no licensing opportunities in recent years compared to 2013 and 2014.
In a statement to the Des Moines Register after the judge's order, King denied wrongdoing, as he has throughout the case.
"It is a petty and politically motivated case of litigation persecution," he said. "I had no involvement or prior knowledge whatsoever and the plaintiff and her attorneys know that."
Petty and politically motivated it may have been, but it cost former Congressman King and his now closed campaign committee over $150,000 to defend themselves against this lawfare attack.
Success Kid fundraising ad
Success Kid meme
King for Congres