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Me-ouch! Cat meme makers suing ‘Scribblenauts’ creators

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Keyboard Cat vs. Keyboard Cat (Credit: Charles Schmidt/Warner Bros Interactive)

Sue their pants off, Keyboard Cat.

First uncaged back in 2007, the musically-gifted kitty remains one of the web’s biggest viral hits. But to the owner of the feline sensation’s trademark and copyright, you don’t get to play with “Fatso” for free.

Charles Schmidt is suing Warner Bros. Interactive and game developer 5th Cell for including Keyboard Cat in the ‘Scribblenauts’ game series without permission, reports Gamasutra. He’s joined in his suit by Christopher Orlando Torres, the owner of fellow cat meme “Nyan Cat,” who also alleges the game used his cash-kitty illegally.

Taken together, Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat -- a cartoon cat with a Pop-Tart body flying through space and leaving a rainbow in its wake -- have amassed well over 100 million Youtube views.

"That popularity makes them extremely valuable for commercial uses,” states the lawsuit (PDF) , which was filed on April 22. “Unlike WB and 5th, many other companies, respecting plaintiffs' intellectual property rights, regularly pay substantial license fees to use plaintiffs' memes.”

The plaintiffs allege the two memes have been used to help promote the Scribblenauts series, which dates back to 2009. The game allows players to solve puzzles by summoning items into the world, from everyday objects like balls and shovels to unique characters like Santa Claus and Abraham Lincoln.

Schmidt and Torres contend that the WB logo itself is essentially a meme protected by “an army of lawyers who use trademark and copyright law to zealously protect its intellectual property.”

“Yet, for the past three years, WB, along with game developer 5th, have knowingly and intentionally infringed on plaintiffs' copyrights and trademarks by using "Nyan Cat" and Fatso's image in WB's top selling "Scribblenauts" games, including, most recently, "Scribblenauts Unlimited," which WB released in 2011,” the suit reads.

The pair are seeking damages, legal fees and an injunction against the sale of Scribblenauts games containing the two memes.

Schmidt has litigated to protect Keyboard Cat before. In 2011 he sued Threadless over a t-shirt bearing the cat’s likeness, which was eventually settled out of court. Schmidt and Torres also share an agent, Ben Lashes, who has repeatedly fought for the rights of his meme-famous clients.

“The subject matter might be a little more silly, or a little more weird but I say, if Walt Disney was just coming on the scene now, and he created Mickey Mouse, and he put it on YouTube, and all of a sudden it became a sensation, what would he then do with it to keep the brand going, and keep people happy, and at the same time be able to make money off it so he can keep doing it?” Lashes told the Upstart Business Journal at SXSW 2013.

It’s a little less clear with a game like Scribblenauts. While both cat memes can indeed be found in the game, they’re tucked away as Easter Eggs, and I don’t recall seeing a blatant use of either cat to specifically promote a Scribblenauts product. We’ll find out if this lawsuit's got claws in the coming months.

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