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It's not easy being meme: Techno Viking sues creator
January 27, 2013 6:25 AM   Subscribe

You may dance like nobody's watching, but what if your dancing is videoed and becomes the base of an internet meme and subsequent cottage industry, all without your knowledge and without you receiving any compensation for it? Should you have the right to stop this exploitation, or was the artist who first popularised you in his rights to create new artwork based on the original video? That's what's at stake in the lawsuit of the Techno Viking against Matthias Fritsch.

Matthias Fritsch is the person who at a techno rave in Berlin created the original video, when one very Nordic dancer came into frame as he was shooting some street video. That was in 2000, some years before Youtube, to which Fritsch uploaded the video in 2006, where, via "an obscure Central American porn site", it went viral and started being memed. Once the still unknown Techno Viking came across this, he asked, then sued Fritsch to stop it.

Under German law, there is the right to control your own likeness. This right is diminished in public and when you know you have the possibility to be videoed or photographed, as could be argued was the case here. The key question is therefore not so much whether Fritsch was in his right to videotape the Techno Viking, but whether the latter could've reasonably expected his image to become an internet meme.
posted by MartinWisse (69 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Story found via Arnoud Engelfriet's excellent Dutch language law and internet blog.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:31 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear, by "sue" you mean "Pillage" and by "case" you mean "axe" right?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:41 AM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Maybe this is just my head messing with me, but I feel like I had this thought at the time it was being posted everywhere: what if Technoviking guy isn't so keen on this video being distributed hither and yon? Does he even know? He seemed a bit tetchy to me.
posted by taz at 6:45 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


If by "tetchy" you mean "Ragnarok-y" and--OK I'll stop now.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:53 AM on January 27, 2013 [14 favorites]


Considering that the Berlin Fuckparade, where it was filmed, is a demonstration against the commercialisation of everything (my interpretation), it seems to me that he's consistent in his values.
posted by dhoe at 6:59 AM on January 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Filmed in a pubic place? Tough cookies.
posted by CarlRossi at 7:01 AM on January 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can anyone ever "reasonably expect" his image to become an internet meme? I'm a relatively normal looking, shlubby kind of guy, but if I was walking down the street and a duck flew into my crotch, someone would find a security camera or cell phone video of it and put me on youtube, reddit, 4chan, memebase, and, yes, mefi within the week. Instantly, I would become duck-to-testicles-man, but it's not as if walking to the barber shop, my original intent, was an invitation to memehood... just as "technoviking" was probably aiming more at dancing and enjoying himself than becoming known for all eternity as "technoviking."

Honestly, I take his side here—even though his quest is quixotic. I wonder how many employers have looked at him and said: "Wow, you look just like Technoviking! Have you seen this video?" How about girlfriends (or boyfriends?)? How strange must that be, to no longer have control of your own identity?
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:03 AM on January 27, 2013 [19 favorites]


I don't think I knew TechnoViking was a meme when I made this comment almost five years ago.
posted by grouse at 7:14 AM on January 27, 2013


Sonic meat that would make sense if he was forced to be well-known for something negative (like being the victim of a duck-crotching, which is a scourge) but I can't picture a situation where everyone, even a future employer, wouldn't follow "Hey werent you that Teknoviking guy" with "That's awesome!"

Suing for being made famous for being awesome in public? Case dismissed.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:15 AM on January 27, 2013


CarlRossi, yes the videographer is allowed to film Mr. Viking in a public place (at least under US law), but publishing and profiting from Mr. Viking's image are other matters entirely. Most western states recognize personality rights.
posted by introp at 7:15 AM on January 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


In the year 2000 who would have thought that they would end up an Internet meme?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:19 AM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Most western states recognize personality rights.

Proximity to Hollywood seems to be the key factor.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:22 AM on January 27, 2013


CarlRossi: "Filmed in a pubic place? Tough cookies."
America, you're not the world.
posted by brokkr at 7:30 AM on January 27, 2013 [51 favorites]


Potomac Avenue: "Suing for being made famous for being awesome in public? Case dismissed."
Good thing that isn't what Fritsch is being sued for, then. TechnoViking is suing the filmmaker for profiting from using his likeness without permission.
posted by brokkr at 7:31 AM on January 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sonic meat that would make sense if he was forced to be well-known for something negative (like being the victim of a duck-crotching, which is a scourge) but I can't picture a situation where everyone, even a future employer, wouldn't follow "Hey werent you that Teknoviking guy" with "That's awesome!"

It's still mediated through other peoples' opinions. You may think the Technoviking is awesome; he may not. Perhaps it from a time with a pattern of behavior he no longer wants to be associated with; maybe he wants to forget about his wild-partying past and settle down with his new Christian fundamentalist wife. It's impossible to say that something is awesome from the perspective of the person experiencing it, if you aren't that person.

Imagine that after my duck-crotching, I grabbed the duck and drop-kicked it high into the air. That's likely to earn me "awesome" points from a certain section of the Internet... but perhaps I'm a fervent animal-rights activist and I don't want to be reminded of the day I punted a duck.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:34 AM on January 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Just out of curiosity wouldn’t Youtube/Google also be guilty of this? Fritsch only made a very small portion of the profit from the commercialization of Technovikiing
posted by srboisvert at 7:36 AM on January 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised it's even a control-your-own-likeness thing. I would have thought that the dancing would count as some sort of creative act. Like, if some artist is performing, even on a public stage in a municipal park or something like that, you can't just record them and sell DVDs of it, can you?
posted by XMLicious at 7:46 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


It sounds like there are actually two or three things going on here at the same time:

1) Fritsch is being sued for publishing the original video and making money off it. That one seems the clearest-cut case; I doubt Fritsch got a model release, so profiting off his likeness is probably illegal.

2) Fritsch is apparently also being sued for a lot of Technoviking stuff created since the original video, including stuff Fritsch says he didn't make. The lawsuit presupposes Fritsch made far more material than just the video, but it sounds like it doesn't intend to take down material created by other people. That doesn't mean the plaintiff doesn't have the desire to, nor that he's right about what works are actually Fritsch's and which aren't.

3) Fritsch is apparently also being sued for encouraging or masterminding the creation of the Technoviking meme and all the various user-created media in an effort to boost the revenue derived from Technoviking-related material.

Everything eventually connects back to Fritsch making money off Technoviking, and not necessarily that Technoviking is now an embarrassing meme. The second and third points could be considered overreach because they sound harder to prove (and may not even be correct). But I originally thought the guy wanted to sue because someone was profiting off his likeness AND because "take my shit off the internet," when it sounds like really the lawsuit just covers the first part.
posted by chrominance at 7:50 AM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


While I have no knowledge of German law, I believe a universal concept in law is of "reasonableness" and, in this case "how has Mr. T. Viking been harmed?" Dancing at a street festival shirtless with viking regalia around your neck for three minutes with a camera in your face is tacit approval that it's OK to be videotaped. Assuming YouTube paid Fritsch for 16 million views that's probably around $50,000 - not trivial but not a a life changing amount of money either.

How is this different for mugging it up for Facebook posts and then, after one of your pictures goes viral, deciding you've been harmed by something you actively participated in creating? I agree with chrominance (and his friend luminance? :-) that the only real issue here is Fritsch getting paid. Seems like the most reasonable answer would be for some type of revenue split with Fritsch and then call it a day.
posted by Dean358 at 7:55 AM on January 27, 2013


So not even do we not read the actual links now, we don't even read the actual post any more?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:56 AM on January 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


I would have thought that the dancing would count as some sort of creative act.

Further, when you are TechnoViking, everything you do is a creative act.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:57 AM on January 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


Fritsch in an interview from 2 years ago: "At the beginning I was reluctant to [earn money from Youtube ads], because it could put me in the wrong light. But I do not sell my art and generally do not consider myself as being part of the fine art scene, so I thought, why not. I can always stop it and it financed my rent and health insurance at the time. I did stop it immediately after I received a letter from the lawyer of the Technoviking persona, who really does not want to be famous."

Fritsch is quoted here saying that Technoviking not only wanted the commercial use to stop, but also use in art installations etc. They couldn't find a compromise on that issue, hence the lawsuit.
posted by dhoe at 8:00 AM on January 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dean358: "How is this different for mugging it up for Facebook posts and then, after one of your pictures goes viral, deciding you've been harmed by something you actively participated in creating?"
It's really not different at all, and the scenario you outline is reality in Germany. Facebook: Erste Abmahnung wegen Vorschaubildern der Teilen-Funktion ("Facebook: first cease-and-desist due to preview images in sharing function").
posted by brokkr at 8:00 AM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Fritsch in an interview from 2 years ago....." I did stop it immediately after I received a letter from the lawyer of the Technoviking persona, who really does not want to be famous."

And this is the part I find unreasonable. You're making a deliberate spectacle of yourself in public, and you're completely aware that you're being videotaped. Yet you feel you have the right to limit how many people get to see the video? How does that work?
posted by Dean358 at 8:18 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can't prevent a news outlet from running the video to illustrate a news story, so you don't really decide if you'll be famous or not. You can, however, prevent someone else from profiting from your image without your agreement.
posted by introp at 8:22 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dean358, in the year 2000, when TechnoViking did the dancing, the whole internet meme thing was not what it is today. He was not dancing in front of a videographer thinking to himself, "Hmmmm, maybe in six or seven years he's going to put this on YouTube and it's going to go viral, so I'd better stop grooving to the music here."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:28 AM on January 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


You're making a deliberate spectacle of yourself in public, and you're completely aware that you're being videotaped. Yet you feel you have the right to limit how many people get to see the video? How does that work?

This assumes an awful lot. First off, it assumes an awareness that he was being videotaped, which is by no means a given. Second, even if he were aware, this was 2000 and at most he might have been aware that this one guy might show the video to a few friends. Twelve years ago it was not only extremely difficult to put video on the Internet, but practically no one had the ability to view it without waiting forever for it to download. Third, he was hardly making more a spectacle of himself than most everyone else at Fuckparade.
posted by slkinsey at 8:34 AM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'll point out that the project is called "Kneecam No. 1" officially, so it's possible that the camera was hidden.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:36 AM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


ThatCanadianGirl: "In the year 2000 who would have thought that they would end up an Internet meme?"

In the year two thousand...

In the year two thousand!
posted by symbioid at 8:36 AM on January 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


You raise an interesting and valid point, ThatCanadianGirl. I'm not sure that he has the right to any assumptions about future use. At the risk of using a bad analogy, Bach and Beethoven had no knowledge that their music would be included on an interstellar space probe (Voyager) to represent humanity.

slkinsey, as for the issue of the camera being hidden: I really don't think so. It's clearly not shot with a telephoto lens so Fritsch had to be pretty in his face, most certainly his line of sight, to capture these shots. Unless Fritsch was deliberately concealing the camera -- pretty difficult given the shots and the size of camcorders back then -- Mr. T. V. would have had to have been aware he was being videotaped. That said, if he was being videotaped without his knowledge it does change the discussion. And one would expect that to be raised in his lawsuit.
posted by Dean358 at 8:51 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


America, you're not the world.
You will live to rue the day you admonished our spokesperson.
posted by relish at 8:55 AM on January 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


a world without Techno Viking is not a world i want to live in.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 8:57 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a tough one. Good points on both sides to consider.
posted by Mister_A at 8:59 AM on January 27, 2013


I'm feeling old and clueless because I've never even heard of Technoviking until now. But the case is fascinating, so I'm glad I read the post.
posted by immlass at 9:03 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


As with most things speech- and press-related, though, America has the right idea. Using the courts to stop or squash dissemination of material filmed or photographed in a public place shouldn't be a thing that is allowed.
posted by eugenen at 9:07 AM on January 27, 2013


America, you're not the world.

But I was told not only that we are the world, but we are the children!
posted by maryr at 9:08 AM on January 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


Dean358, there is a high difference between some guy with a little handheld and a dude with a big shoulder-carried video recorder. Especially if you're, shall we say, not entirely unaltered at the time.
posted by slkinsey at 9:10 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


There were tons of internet memes even waaaaay back in 2000.

Also, my lawn. I see what you did there.
posted by DU at 9:19 AM on January 27, 2013


I think that intent of the uploader is a key element here. Fritsch wasn't just some guy who uploaded a thing he randomly captured (although to some extent it was random -- I assume), he approached it as a professional artist, treated it as a meme, and actively encouraged the production of remixed/mimicked versions. Especially once he began accepting money, he created a relationship with the material that might not have existed for many other meme subjects. I don't know if I ever knew that this was or had become an "art project", let alone that money was involved.
posted by dhartung at 9:22 AM on January 27, 2013


In other news, Techno Squid Eats Parliament.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:25 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're making a deliberate spectacle of yourself in public

He's dancing at a music event.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:31 AM on January 27, 2013 [22 favorites]


In 2005, the photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia was sued for his unauthorized use of someone's likeness in a work of art. Laws will differ between different areas and the nature of what constitutes art certainly aren't ever going to be clear. It will be interesting to see what happens in this case.
posted by jade east at 9:33 AM on January 27, 2013


Dean358: "At the risk of using a bad analogy, Bach and Beethoven had no knowledge that their music would be included on an interstellar space probe (Voyager) to represent humanity. "
Bad analogy, yes. Bach and Beethoven created works of art themselves, which were then used on Voyager after their IP rights had lapsed.
Dean358: "Mr. T. V. would have had to have been aware he was being videotaped. That said, if he was being videotaped without his knowledge it does change the discussion."
For one thing, he could have been stark raving drunk (which is not illegal per se in Germany) and thus not have any idea what was going on.
posted by brokkr at 9:38 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the next 20 years, drones and endless storage capacity will lead to the ability to recall almost anything anywhere. We need decent privacy laws to deal with the upcoming panopticon.

"Can you believe it -- they fucked in an actual hotel room without enabling a cloaker? Dumbfucks."
posted by benzenedream at 9:40 AM on January 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


On the whole, I agree with Duck-Testicles, above.

In the year 2000 who would have thought that they would end up an Internet meme?

I did. And I'm still fucking waiting!
posted by dobbs at 9:47 AM on January 27, 2013


$50 000... not a lifechanging amount

I say with complete sincerity and without a smidgen of exaggeration that $50 000 would radically change my life. Radically.

Like some other posters, i also came in thinking that his dancing would be considered an artistic performance and that he should have rights over it.
posted by windykites at 9:48 AM on January 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


Assuming YouTube paid Fritsch for 16 million views that's probably around $50,000 - not trivial but not a a life changing amount of money either.

What the fuck are you talking about 50,000 dollars isn't life changing? Must be nice to not concern yourself with pocket change, jesus christ man.
posted by TheRedArmy at 9:53 AM on January 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


What I find strange about this story is the slow burn of it. Techno Viking did his dancing twelve years ago, and the meme peaked in 2007 or so. So why the lawsuit only now? Maybe the increasing commercialization of it, particularly the Youtube payments.
posted by Nelson at 9:55 AM on January 27, 2013


For one thing, he could have been stark raving drunk
Raving, definitely. But he doesn't look drunk at all.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:55 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


TheRedArmy and windykites: allow me to rephrase. I did not mean to imply that $50,000 isn't a lot of money for an individual. But as commercial transactions go, it's probably not worth suing for. If German legal costs are anything close to those in the USA then Mr. T. Viking will almost certainly spend more than $50,000 in attorneys fees alone. My point was, this was not a mega-bucks operation that allowed Fritsch to retire as a gentleman farmer in the south of France.
posted by Dean358 at 10:22 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


You know, I've never seen the entire video, just the part where he's dancing.

In the full-length version above, the video starts with the camera focusing on a blue-haired woman. Then some jerk in a black tank top comes charging across the screen and violently shoves her out of the way. The subject of the post (I don't want to call him technoviking if he doesn't like it) then comes into frame to warn the jerk off, grabbing both his hands and chasing him away. Where it gets interesting is when the camera pans up a little later, mr black tank top jerk is sitting at his ease next to the cameraman.

I wonder if the jerk and the cameraman are friends, and if so how that affected the decision to upload the video.
posted by winna at 10:37 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Didn't Technoviking appear in that Weezer video ("Pork 'n' Beans") with all the other internet memes? If so (and I'm pretty sure I remember him being in there), he was presumably paid to appear, and so profited from his own internet notoriety.
posted by Curious Artificer at 11:28 AM on January 27, 2013


If there's one person I wouldn't want to tick off...
posted by banwa at 11:51 AM on January 27, 2013


TheRedArmy and windykites: allow me to rephrase. I did not mean to imply that $50,000 isn't a lot of money for an individual. But as commercial transactions go, it's probably not worth suing for. If German legal costs are anything close to those in the USA then Mr. T. Viking will almost certainly spend more than $50,000 in attorneys fees alone. My point was, this was not a mega-bucks operation that allowed Fritsch to retire as a gentleman farmer in the south of France.

Oh. Well then please try to ignore the angry technoviking en route to your home, I don't know how to recall him.
posted by TheRedArmy at 11:53 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's $50,000 over the course of 6-7 years. That's not quit-your-job money for most people.

Oh. Well then please try to ignore the angry technoviking en route to your home, I don't know how to recall him.

What is this supposed to mean?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:24 PM on January 27, 2013


Well, it's a small sheepish joke based on my misapprehension of Dean358's comment about the $50,000, fancifully implying that I somehow dispatched a technoviking to pillage his home before I realized thanks to your clarification and others like it that his comment wasn't offensive in the way I initially thought it was.

But don't worry, there's really only one TechnoViking and he is busy with a legal battle right now and not available as a pillager-for-hire.
posted by TheRedArmy at 12:45 PM on January 27, 2013


There were tons of internet memes even waaaaay back in 2000.

Technoviking ate my balls!
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:59 PM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Didn't Technoviking appear in that Weezer video ("Pork 'n' Beans") with all the other internet memes?

To answer my own question, that segment was only in the remixed version that came out after the original video, which included many more memes that weren't in the original.

All the instances of the remix I am finding now, though, say it "contains content from UMG, who has blocked it on copyright grounds".
posted by Curious Artificer at 1:25 PM on January 27, 2013


CarlRossi: "Filmed in a pubic place? Tough cookies."

Take off your pants, then, and show us all your pubic place.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:43 PM on January 27, 2013


Honestly, I take his side here—even though his quest is quixotic.

Well, I respect his desire for privacy or to have his image not be associated with commercial use without his consent (YouTube generates money through advertising), although I don't think you have much expectation of privacy in a public place. On the other hand, if you're gonna get you're 15 minutes for something, it might as well be this. I'd embrace it.

I wonder how many employers have looked at him and said: "Wow, you look just like Technoviking! Have you seen this video?" How about girlfriends (or boyfriends?)?

I believe this is a good example of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." It has the potential for being annoying or being incredibly fun.

How strange must that be, to no longer have control of your own identity?

Well, of course he does, but he never really had control over how others perceive him. There's nothing in the video that's shameful, criminal or ethically wrong. He looks goofy when he dances, but that's only because the way he dances is fearless, and we all should be so lucky to be that fearless. So, although I understand why he might have a problem with the way his image has been distributed, it's unfortunate that this can't be about the kind of fearless joy he seems to embody when he dances.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:33 PM on January 27, 2013


"Goofy" ???!!?!!!?
posted by glasseyes at 4:43 PM on January 27, 2013


I'm saying he looked goofy, but not to be insulting, however. I've been to plenty of raves, including renegade street parties, and I'd describe my own dancing as goofy. Plenty of other people too. No shame in that.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:14 PM on January 27, 2013


I like to picture him taking the witness stand, being asked to identify the maker of the video, standing and pointing... The judge hands him a water bottle as he slowly starts to dance to the beat of the stenographer.
posted by mannequito at 7:44 PM on January 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


No, he did not look goofy. He danced well and had a beautiful body. Let's just be clear, he didn't become a meme by looking "goofy", and they didn't call him "viking" because he wore a funny hat.
posted by Goofyy at 3:07 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


What happened to the good old days when Vikings didn't get all hopped up on E and go dancing through the streets, but rather chomped down some Jimsonweed and had a couple cups of Datura Root tea for breakfast before going out and pillaging and plundering distant shores on a good Berserker binge?

They never complained years later when in some dark dingy pub somewhere their tales were told and songs were sung in there memory.
posted by Sailormom at 5:11 AM on January 28, 2013


Yes yes yes. But what we really want to know is; does Mr T. Viking still look and dance so awesome?
posted by 13twelve at 11:42 AM on January 28, 2013


I don't see any point where T.V. looks directly at the camera. Fritsch seems to be filming from a float (I'm guessing it's a mobile soundsystem) with the speakers on it which is why it looks like a professional tracking shot. I think the camera motion is actually a big part of the clip's appeal. T.V. is dancing super aggressively basically at the black tank top guy. It just seems to be one of those situations that can come up in anarchical situations like this where you're kind of self-policing. Sometimes someone just needs to say 'not cool man.' It probably amped him up and then he immediately puts that aggression back into his dancing. Which is so much better than fighting. There also seem to be quite a few other people on the float, so even if the camera weren't 'hidden' it might not have been that noticeable. Seems like a fucking awesome party either way. Fritsch definitely has profited, so I don't see why T.V. shouldn't get his cut. Trying to remove the clip from the web is laughable though.
posted by mike_bling at 12:59 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, he did not look goofy. He danced well and had a beautiful body. Let's just be clear, he didn't become a meme by looking "goofy", and they didn't call him "viking" because he wore a funny hat.

Ah, I had no idea you would take it so personally. It's OK if I think of his dancing as goofy, but it doesn't mean it's not beautiful. The two are not mutually exclusive. At any rate, my opinion of his dancing hardly matters to anyone, or it shouldn't anyway.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:45 PM on January 28, 2013


Woah.

I just had a hankering to rewatch this guy dance (he's been on my mind for the past few days), but I have Fleetwood Mac's Rumours playing in the background, so I muted YouTube and watched the video without its audio.

At 1:27 in the video, just as his dancing really takes off, the beat syncs with the beat to 'Go Your Own Way'.

Totally awesome.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 11:45 PM on February 3, 2013


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