The giant ponytailed raver in the "Technoviking" video, one of the earliest, biggest and awesomest internet memes ever, is unhappy about being turned into the internet's most legendary Nordic badass.
The man, who has remained unnamed, set out three years ago to remove the entire Technoviking meme from the web, suing the artist and filmmaker Matthias Fritsch, who first took the video back in 2000 at the Fuckparade techno street parade in Berlin.
After three years tied up in court, a judge sided with the raver last month, forbidding Fritsch to show the original video or anything else with the man's image, and ordering he pay back the nearly $10,000 he had earned off the video and related work. Now, Fritsch wants to make a documentary about the whole ordeal. Having experienced some recent financial setbacks, he's crowdfunding the project on Indiegogo.
Fritsch has long held an interest in open collaborative art, and wants to tell the story of the birth and growth of an internet sensation—though it will be hard to tell the story without showing any images of the guy the story is about. More importantly, he wants to reflect on the larger issue the story forces: how web artists can protect themselves from "old laws that have yet to catch up to contemporary meme culture."
"The young generation grows up with a new understanding of how to deal with media in times of instant copy, paste and edit," he said in an interview with the blog We Make Money Not Art. "And the most common effect of censoring something popular is that this makes it even more popular."
It's yet another example of the hot mess of trying to control the internet. Where does privacy meet free speech? Who owns the rights to a meme? Where does art become exploitation?
Notably, the judge ruled that the copious user-made spinoffs, mashups, comics, GIFs, images, and artwork that followed the viral video (you can find most of them in Fritsch's Technoviking archive) were fair game, because they were an example of free expression.
Still, the anonymous technoviking claims the meme violated his "personality rights"—the right to protect your image and identity from commercial exploitation. (The law is similar in the US and Germany.) The trouble is, the internet makes it possible for any image, video or photograph to earn public recognition and commercial potential nearly overnight, regardless of whether that was the original intention. It's the Wild West out there. Or in this case, the Nordic wilderness.
It's true Fritsch had no way of knowing a video he filmed out of personal curiosity would explode across the web—or had any way of controlling it once it did. He didn't even come up with the name Technoviking. But he was hardly distraught by the meme's popularity; the guy sold t-shirts, after all.
I can also sympathize with the man who went to a parade and came back a world-famous joke, even if there are way worse ways to be immortalized than as a techno-loving boss. Still the anonymous technoviking man ought to have realized you can never erase something from the internet—especially something this big—but the Streisand Effect carries on.
In the end, all that was accomplished in the legal fight was that the artist had to pay back what he'd earned off the video. the technoviking didn't gain anything more than revenge. In fact if anything, it just reignited the very meme he was hoping to make disappear.