(C) Laney Griner/Used with permission

Mom of ‘Success Kid’ says Steve King can’t use her son’s meme for ‘repulsive’ campaign

'I would never permit its use by someone as divisive and vitriolic as Steve King.'


Libby Cohen

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Posted on Jan 28, 2020   Updated on May 19, 2021, 4:49 pm CDT

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) tried to use an immensely popular meme for his campaign efforts—and immediately got slammed for copyright infringement.

The “Success Kid”, aka “I Hate Sandcastles,” is one of the best-known memes of the 21st century. The mother of “Success Kid,” Laney Griner, first posted the image of her infant boy clenching his fist to her Flickr account 2007. Due to its immense popularity online, Griner copyrighted the image to protect it from wrongful use.

But last week, King used the famous meme on a Facebook post without permission. Griner was outraged that the congressman—who’s been accused of defending white nationalism, incest, and rape—used her son’s image.

“The reputation and personality of the photo is positive and uplifting, which is the nature of the meme, I believe. So no, I would never permit its use by someone as divisive and vitriolic as Steve King,” Griner told the Daily Dot. “Every post on his page is hateful and negative and against not just the image’s reputation, but also my personal beliefs.”

In a Twitter thread, Griner called out the King campaign.

“I recently learned that Iowa Representative Steve King is using my copyrighted photograph of my minor son Samuel known as ‘Success Kid’ to raise money in a ‘Fund out Memes’ online campaign,” Griner tweeted, “also implying that he has some kind of ownership in it.”

On Monday, Griner’s attorneys sent King a cease-and-desist letter ordering the campaign to remove the post. The letter also demands that any funds earned from the image be issued to Griner along with a public statement admitting to the “unauthorized exploitation of ‘Success Kid,'” according to the letter obtained by the Daily Dot.

Journalist Eric Hananoki took a screenshot of King’s campaign spread before it was taken down. The Facebook post asked for money to “to make sure the memes keep flowing and the Lefties stay triggered.” Beneath the caption, the “Success Kid” was pictured in front of Capitol Hill with the text “FUND OUR MEMES!!!”



The campaign did not respond to the Daily Dot by the time of publication.

The use of the “Success Kid” image is not out of the ordinary for Griner. She has licensed it for commercial use for brands including Honey Bunches of Oats and Coca Cola according to BuzzFeed News. She even permitted former President Barack Obama to use the image for a meme about immigration reform.



But Griner wasn’t about to let her son’s image be used for campaign efforts she doesn’t support.

“It’s a photo of a baby, who is still a minor, used for fundraising for causes we find repulsive. We like to work with positive messages and companies, or at least not negative ones,” Griner said. 

She confirmed on Twitter that she would never allow King to use her image—even if he did ask for legal use.

“I have/would never give permission for use of my son’s photo to promote any agenda of this vile man or that disgusting party,” she tweeted.


H/T BuzzFeed News

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*First Published: Jan 28, 2020, 2:00 pm CST