Cat memes are biting back. In a strange twist, Charles Schmidt and Christopher Orlando Torres have sued Warner Brothers for copyright and trademark infringement. The reason? Keyboard Cat, created by Schmidt, and Nyan Cat, created by Torres, both appear in the game Scribblenauts Unlimited.
If you’re not familiar with the game, Scribblenauts’s unique twist is that players can type almost anything in to have appear in the game. Write out “anvil,” a little anvil will drop out of the sky. T-Rex? Enjoy your new dinosaur. Keyboard Cat? A little kitty in a blue shirt with a keyboard. Typing in Nyan Cat will likewise place a gray feline with a Pop-Tart body.
Interestingly, despite the idea of memes being shared, re-appropriated and remixed, both of these cats are copyrighted with trademark applications pending. After their memes exploded in popularity, both creators went to “meme agent” Brian Lashes to try and turn them into product lines.
They argue that because they hold registered copyrights, using them in Scribblenauts Unlimited is akin to using Warner Bros characters without permission in another game.
“The ‘WB’ logo also is a meme,” they argue in a court filing, “even though it is only two letters inside the outline of a shield. Of course, WB employs an army of lawyers who use trademark and copyright law to zealously protect its intellectual property.”
The pair also argue that Warner Bros created a misleading relationship between the game and their creations. Schmidt and Torres are asking for damages as well as court costs covered, although the specific amount has not been disclosed to the public.
When you think about it, their lawsuit does make sense. After all, they created these characters, and should have the right to give or deny permission to other people looking to profit from them. The strange gray area is the fact that as memes, the entire idea behind them is for them to be infinitely sharable and mutable. I suppose whenever money is involved though, a line has to be drawn somewhere.