Don’t mess with cat memes – especially if your idea of “messing with” is an attempt to profit off their popularity without giving the creators a heads up. Warner Brothers is facing a host of legal troubles from the creators of Nyan Cat and Keyboard Cat, two of the Internet’s most famous cat-related memes. The creators of these memes say Warner Brothers and game developers 5th Cell used these memes in the game Scribblenaut Unlimited without ponying up the dough for licensed images.
Digital Trends reached out to Chris Torres, the creator of Nyan Cat, but as it goes with people in the middle of a lawsuit, we got a re-direct to a blog post and a press release instead of a new comment. We do know that Torres has teamed up with Chris Schmidt, the creator of “Keyboard Cat,” to defend their works.
Torres’ blog outlines his argument against Warner Bros. articulately, pointing out that he registered Nyan Cat in 2011, and then it appeared without his consultation in Scribblenauts in 2012. ” I have no issues with Nyan Cat being enjoyed by millions of fans as a meme, and I have never tried to prevent people from making creative uses of it that contribute artistically and are not for profit. But this is a commercial use, and these companies themselves are protectors of their own intellectual property.”
Torres isn’t against Nyan Cat appearing in games. The silly graphic already appeared in ads for Vitamin Water, Old Spice, and several other products – with Torres’ permission. “Many other companies have licensed Nyan Cat properly to use commercially. In Scribblenaut Unlimited, you have to actually type out the words ‘Nyan Cat’ and ‘Keyboard Cat’ to get our characters to appear in the game. In fact, the game forbids you from making any copyright references in their games with a pop-up error.”
Both Torres and Schmidt are graphic artists, so they want to be compensated for their work when it appears in profit-making games. This case may have interesting implications about who owns memes and may spur other companies to be less cavalier when adopting something popular from the Internet.