On an overcast day at the Berlin Fuckparade in 2000, German artist Matthias Fritsch created a film that changed the Internet. As the denizens of the techno parade marched, Fritsch caught something extraordinary: a giant of a man who looked like he was ripped from Scandinavian mythology, dancing with wild robotic precision to a thumping techno beat.
He became known as the "Technoviking," the accidental star of one of the biggest Internet memes of the 2000s and the subject of a thousand Internet remixes. Now the Technoviking is proving to be as ruthless in court as he is on the dancefloor.
Earlier this year, the real man behind the Technoviking image sued Fritsch. He's apparently not happy about his likeness spreading all over the Web. He and his lawyers lay the blame fully on the shoulders of Fritsch and are demanding the artist strip every video he ever posted of the Technoviking from the Web. Failing to do that, Fritsch would face a €250,000 (roughly $334,441 U.S.) fine and six months in prison.
When we first reported on the trial in January, details were sketchy—and they remain so. Fritsch's lawyers refused to send official court documents, and online German media has been surprisingly quiet about a trial that could have wide repercussions for generative Internet culture around the world. We emailed the German court where the trial is taking place but did not hear back. The Technoviking's lawyer, Alexander Paschke, has also declined multiple interview requests from German media. His only public comments on the case appear to this radio interview with BLN.fm. Everything we've learned has been directly from Fritsch.
And now he's sent us another update: The Technoviking (whose identity still hasn't been revealed) and his legal team have refused a compromise proposed by the judges.
Here's how Fritsch explained it:
The compromise that the judges proposed would have meant that (without me agreeing to have violated the law but as a compromise) the video goes offline from my side and i would further use the plaintiffs image only in single examples and with a pixelated face within the art and educational context. also i would have paid 75% of all the fees and forward 6000 euro from the income that i had made in 2008-2010.
The loser in the judge's compromise is clearly Fritsch, who has based large part of his artistic career in exploring memes as a form of generative art form. So why did the Technoviking's team refuse the offer? Do they think their case is so rock solid they don't need to compromise?
Andrew Hammel, a Germany-based blogger, thinks their case is hardly a sure win:
Under the common law... the Technoviking video can be legally shared. Technoviking went out into a public festival, where certainly knew he might be filmed, and started dancing. He was sharing his image with thousands of strangers, and obviously enjoyed himself doing so. The artist was not using the Technoviking's image to sell a product, and the money he earned from it was merely incidental to its unexpected success. And it was, of course, money for something he created—the video of an interesting person dancing on the street.
Fritsch said we should expect the court's next decision to come sometime in March.
Screengrab via YouTube