October 8, 2017

(R)IP Grumpy Cat - your legacy lives on

Tardar Sauce or more famously known for her celebrity persona, "Grumpy Cat", passed away on 14 May 2019. Her death was announced on social media and met with thousands of condolences from around the world.

Grumpy Cat became an overnight internet sensation when a photo of her and her 'grumpy expression' (caused by feline dwarfism and malocclusion (underbite)) went viral in 2012. Like all cats, Grumpy Cat was a natural in the spotlight. Soon Grumpy Cat was making celebrity appearances, posing with the likes of Elon Musk and Al Gore, being a TV and movie star, endorsing products and 'writing' books. Grumpy Cat is estimated to have earned her owners $100 million.

The power behind the "Grumpy Cat" brand lies in its intellectual property (IP), namely the image, the name and the mark (i.e. Grumpy Cat). Social media made Grumpy Cat famous for free, creating the brand that her owners would then apply to countless goods and services. After the owners incorporated a company for Grumpy Cat and registered the trademark(s), commercial success was just a meow away.

And despite that underbite, Grumpy Cat had teeth! In 2018, Grumpy Cat won a copyright and trademark infringement case against a company for using her name and image without permission and received $710,001 in damages.

Grumpy Cat shows us the effectiveness of capitalising on intellectual property and ensuring you have a means to protect it. Whether the first step is incorporating your company or registering your trademark, be ready to protect your brand (after all, it's all about the cat-titude). Equally, Grumpy Cat is a reminder that images and content online (including memes) are not free to use and are subject to copyright and often trademark protections. We've written about meme copyright infringement previously, check out our other insights for more.

Grumpy Cat's est. earnings


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Recently a court in Shenzen, China, awarded damages to the tech giant Tencent as a result of a finding of copyright infringement – the work in question was written by Dreamwriter, an automated news-writing system developed by Tencent.

However, as AI applications become more autonomous, and make creative decisions with minimal human input, a question arises as to whether this is the right outcome. 

Our Copyright Act is currently under review and one of the questions MBIE has posed relates to whether the current rules relating to computer generated works are still fit for purpose and whether any changes are required. The first round of submissions are now closed, but watch this space if you would like to keep up to date on where we land on this issue.       

If you have any questions relating to adoption or use of AI technology, please get in touch.

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