Grumpy Cat wins $710,000 payout in copyright dispute over use of image

Verdict helps establish that internet memes can be big business

Jeremy B. White
San Francisco
Thursday 25 January 2018 01:40 GMT
Grumpy cat arrives at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles, California
Grumpy cat arrives at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles, California

Grumpy Cat’s owner has something to smile about after a jury sided with the famous online feline in a copyright dispute.

A California jury voted to award $710,000 (£500,000) to Grumpy Cat Limited, a company launched to monetise the permanently-scowling kitty’s popularity, in a dispute over use of the cat’s name and image.

At issue was beverage company Grenade’s use of Grumpy Cat’s likeness. The company was granted the right to use the feline’s brand on “Grumppuccino” drinks but exceeded that authority in trying to launch a whole line of Grumpy Cat products like ground coffee, according to a lawsuit filed in 2015.

“Ironically, while the world-famous feline Grumpy Cat and her valuable brand are most often invoked in a tongue-and-cheek fashion, defendants’ despicable misconduct here has actually given Grumpy Cat and her owners something to be grumpy about,” the initial complaint read.

A lawyer representing the allegedly wronged feline said in an interview that the jury’s verdict could set a legal precedent.

“It’s the first verdict ever rendered in favour of a viral meme,” David Jonelis told The Wrap. “Memes have rights too”.

Officially named Tardar Sauce, Grumpy Cat ascended to online celebrity status thanks to an ineradicable grimace that results from an underbite and dwarfism.

Her lucrative empire has since produced a book deal, an appearance in a Friskies commercial, a movie, trademark and copyright protection and an impersonation by Barack Obama.

She's been successful enough that her owner was forced to bat down rumours her pet was worth $100m.

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