Mom of "Success Kid" Threatens to Sue Rep. Steve King for Using the Meme in Fundraising Effort

Consumers may be "repelled" by any association with King and refuse to buy licensed products, according to the letter, which demands the image be removed by 9 a.m. PT on Wednesday.
Joshua Lott/Getty Images; Courtesy of King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano LLP

The mother of "Success Kid" is threatening to sue Rep. Steve King for using her son's meme in his campaign fundraising efforts and claims people may be "repelled" by her son's perceived association with him.

An attorney for Laney Marie Griner, who's son Sam Griner is pictured in the meme, on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to King (R-Iowa). She alleges the congressman is willfully infringing her copyright in the image and violating her son's likeness rights by using the meme in his fundraising efforts.

"Not only have you falsely implied by your unauthorized use that 'Success Kid' is somehow associated with and supports your campaign, you have misrepresented to the general public that you are acting on behalf of and even have some proprietary interest in 'Success Kid' and Sam's image by emblazoning his photograph with the legend 'FUND OUR MEMES' in large red block letters," writes attorney Stephen D. Rothschild of King Holmes Paterno & Soriano in the letter.

Griner on Thursday posted a tweet about the campaign, calling him a "vile man" from "that disgusting party."

Rothschild also argues King's campaign is violating the terms of fundraising platform WinRed, which prohibits content that violates copyrights and publicity rights. (Read the full letter below.)

Griner, according to the letter, has licensed the image to "stalwart American companies" like Coca Cola, General Mills, Microsoft and Marriott. Adds Rothschild, "Unlike you and your campaign, they followed the law, gave our client the opportunity to approve or disapprove their uses, bargained for licenses, and paid for the rights they legitimately acquired."

The "good-natured, friendly message" that generated goodwill for Success Kid has also been tarnished, according to the letter. 

"You have a record of vitriolic criticism of individuals who belong to protected classes or disadvantaged groups, or who support legal rights that you condemn," writes Rothschild. "The majority of U.S. consumers reject your political and other views, often vehemently, as they have a right to do. Those people may be repelled by any association with your politics and campaign and, therefore, unwilling to purchase products from legitimate licensees of the 'Success Kid' meme, an association you have unilaterally and unlawfully imposed."

Griner is demanding that by 9 a.m. PT on Wednesday morning King must remove Success Kid from any sites associated with him or his campaign; prominently display a notice that the image was used without permission in at least 90 days on all sites where the meme had been posted; provide an accounting of the funds received in response to the Success Kid post; provide proof that it is refunding all donors and notifying them in writing that Success Kid is not associated with the campaign; and reach out to discuss reasonable compensation for the use.

If King doesn't comply, Griner will sue him, his campaign and WinRed for copyright infringement and violation of Sam's publicity rights.