With tech forming a massive part of our lives, and tech giants having some of the deepest pockets around, it’s no surprise that aspects of tech culture have found themselves the subject of lawsuits.
While some cases are stodgy serious antitrust cases or patent violations, however, others are just a little bit wacky. From monkey selfies to the evils of autocomplete, here are seven of the strangest.
Biggest lawsuit in the business, brotha!
A leaked sex tape belonging to an aging pro wrestler. A mystery backer in the form of a Trump-backing tech billionaire. A sleazy online tabloid, turned defender of free speech and investigative journalism.
No, it’s not the weirdest book John Grisham ever wrote, but the ingredients of a 2016 legal battle which followed website Gawker’s decision to publish a sex tape featuring pro wrassler Hulk Hogan, a.k.a. Terry Bollea.
Unbeknownst to Gawker, Hogan had backing from wealthy venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who had beef with Gawker for outing him as gay some years earlier. The result was Gawker being fined $140 million and promptly filing for bankruptcy. The whole saga is recounted in the Netflix documentary Nobody Speak.
Autocomplete vs. Germany
Autocomplete, the Google function which predicts what you’re going to search for before you’ve finished typing it, is super handy. Who could possibly hate it? Well, a few people in Germany, certainly.
Soon after autocomplete was launched in 2009, several individuals found that their names were being linked with unsavory searches, based on what users had searched for. A German businessman was linked with the search term “fraud,” while Bettina Wulff, wife of former German president Christian Wulff, had search queries linking her with escort services.
In the aftermath of the lawsuit, Google was told to clean up its autocomplete in Germany. Since then, similar complaints have been heard elsewhere in the world — from a French individual accused of being a Satanist to an Irish hotel owner whose hotel was said to be in receivership.
If Google told you to walk into traffic
Ah, Google, your helpful services just can’t get a pass, can they? In 2009, Lauren Rosenberg filed a suit after being hit by a car while walking on a highway in the dark. She named two targets in her lawsuit: the driver of the vehicle that hit her and everyone’s favorite multibillion dollar search giant, Google.
Why Google? Because Rosenberg claimed that Google Maps led her on a route that headed into dangerous traffic. The case was later thrown out, but it does call into question our reliance on A.I. tools and our tendency to believe them. Speaking of which…
The TomTom told me to
The same year that Lauren Rosenberg blamed Google for walking into traffic, 43-year-old British driver Robert Jones blamed his TomTom navigation system in court.
According to Jones, following his SatNav caused him to get stuck in his car on a narrow cliffside path. He had to be towed back to the main road by police in a nine hour rescue mission involving a tractor and three quad bikes.
Jones was told that he should have used common sense instead of slavishly following his GPS system, and fined him for careless driving.
Allergic to Intel
This one’s a little hard to process: a 2002 complaint against Intel and the Netherlands’ Ministry of Economics on the basis that a Dutch woman was allergic to Intel processors. Apparently the problems didn’t extend to the 486 processor, but the high frequency radiation emitting from the Pentium was making her sick.
As a result, she had left her job and was seeking compensation. Apparently the tribunal didn’t totally buy her story.
Memes in court
It’s not every day that memes get discussed in court. That’s exactly what could happen this year, however, as Matt Furie — creator of the unofficial alt-right mascot Pepe the Frog — is taking Infowars’ Alex Jones to court. Furie is claiming damages for copyright infringement after a poster featuring Pepe was sold on the Infowars website.
“Furie did not authorize the use of the Pepe image or character in this poster, and does not approve of the association of Pepe with Alex Jones or any of the other figures shown in this poster, or the ‘MAGA’ slogan,” the civil complaint alleges.
A previous lawsuit, in which Pepe was featured in a self-published book which contained “racist, Islamophobic and hate-filled themes” was settled out of court in 2017.
If a monkey takes a selfie who owns the copyright? That’s an actual legal case resulting from a 2011 incident in which nature photographer David Slater set up a camera during a trip to Indonesia to photograph the endangered Sulawesi crested macaque.
One such macaque, possibly named Naruto, wound up taking a selfie, complete with cheeky grin. The image went viral and appeared on countless memes. More controversially, Wikimedia Commons posted the images and claimed they were public domain since monkeys can’t own copyrights for pictures they take.
This case has been argued in court ever since. Somewhere there is a lawyer rethinking their reasons for going to law school.