June 30, 2011|Steve Johnson | Tribune reporter
In agreement of accepted Internet culture, it's a war of the titans, waged over a asleep abode pet with credible piano skills. It additionally raises basal questions about the curve amid account and appropriation, amid a mashup and a knockoff.
Charles Schmidt, the Spokane, Wash., man abaft the berserk accepted Keyboard Cat YouTube videos (and consecutive merchandise), is suing Threadless, the giant, Web-based Chicago T-shirt maker, for allegedly anarchic his absorb via a T-shirt that pays accolade to Schmidt's agreeable feline.
In the accusation filed June 21 in Seattle federal court, Schmidt contends that Threadless' 2009 Three Keyboard Cat Moon T-shirt, which is itself badly popular, abandoned the absorb he has accustomed for images of his backward cat, Fatso, and the byword "Keyboard Cat."
"This is somebody who is a adamantine worker, who is a accomplished artisan and who is bent to assure his bookish acreage from infringement," said Caitlin Bellum, one of Schmidt's attorneys at the Seattle close Hendricks & Lewis.
Schmidt, declared in the accusation as "an accustomed able actor, video producer, artisan and clear and beheld artist," is gluttonous budgetary damages, an admonition to stop affairs the T-shirt, a acumen that he owns the copyright, and the bondage and abolition of all Three Keyboard Cat Moon items at Threadless, which now accommodate iPhone 4 cases as able-bodied as the aboriginal shirts.
The YouTube footage, aboriginal uploaded in 2007, acquired from video Schmidt attempt of Fatso in 1986, says the lawsuit. The cat died in the backward '90s, Schmidt said. The video became accepted in 2009.
"How the designers and Threadless ascertain this architecture doesn't matter," Schmidt said. "You won't see them accomplishing this with Mickey Mouse. And as far as the law goes, there's no aberration amid Keyboard Cat and Mickey Mouse."
The artisan who co-designed the aboriginal T-shirt was upfront from the alpha about the appropriative attributes of the design.
"I about came up with the idea," Shawn Harris told the Tribune in an account back the shirt was originally released. "It was article of a mashup, really. We aloof about played DJ with these things that bodies admired already on the Internet."
Harris, himself a cat buyer (and frontman of bands including The Matches and the new Maniac), said the abstraction originated with his account for Schmidt's Keyboard Cat.
"He affectionate of exuded this larger-than-life, rock-star quality," Harris said. "It was sad he was bedfast to such a bound bulk of pixels, as portrayed on YouTube."
Harris began apprehensive whether the cat could be put into a archetypal bedrock photo, such as the awning of The Clash's "London Calling" album. "Then I was like, 'Oh, my gosh. These mystical wolves,'" he said.
Also accepted at the time was Three Wolf Moon, an originally aboveboard attributes T-shirt featuring wolves baying at the moon that became accepted with ironists afterwards comments about the shirt on Amazon, breadth it was sold, angry into a array of ball thread.
People approved to be funny by advertence bewitched qualities to the shirt or dabbling fun at its architecture or those who would abrasion it after an angled eyebrow. (Sample: "Unfortunately I already had this exact account tattooed on my chest, but this shirt is actual advantageous in colder weather.")
Believing the mashup abstraction he had appear up with was a winner, Harris, alive with architecture accomplice Emilee Seymour, an Australian, acclimated Photoshop brushes on a bare awning to accomplish a agenda painting of three bodies carefully akin Fatso (who was in freeze-frame on an adjoining screen) alongside a keyboard beneath a moon a lot like the one the three wolves howled at.
They submitted it to Threadless, breadth the shirt designs appear from alfresco artists whose assignment will get printed and offered for auction if it proves abundantly accepted with the Threadless online community. At the time, it was the best accepted architecture the aggregation had yet had, and Threadless rushed it into book to booty advantage of the amalgamation of two then-popular memes.
The accusation "kind of bums me out to some extent, accustomed the amount to which the (Keyboard Cat) meme was reappropriated at the time and mashed up and affectionate of became allotment of Internet accepted culture," Harris said Thursday, accomplished on the buzz in Oakland, Calif.
A arch approach in abreast aesthetic endeavors, he said, is that "nothing is absolutely aboriginal material, whether it be influenced, anon afflicted or absolutely borrowed. But I can accept somebody attention their aboriginal content. It's an odd gray breadth area somebody's capitalizing on article that you've taken allotment in creating."
He said he and his accomplice accept becoming about $12,000 to $14,000 from the Three Keyboard Cat Moon design.
Threadless does not animadversion on awaiting litigation, Cam Balzer, the company's arch business officer, said Thursday in an email.