The legal troubles just won’t stop for Matthias Fritsch, the man who helped create one of the most iconic memes of the past decade.
In June, Fritsch came up the loser in a months-long courtroom battle with a man the world only knows as Technoviking. Now Technoviking is appealing that decision, seeking to reap even more reparations from Fritsch, the man he believes thrust him into a roll of Internet celebrity against his will—and then profited from his likeness.
Fritsch filmed the anonymous man at a 2000 Berlin techno parade, where he danced through the streets like a pillaging Norse disco god. Those scenes would become a part of Internet legend once the video hit YouTube a few years later. The Technoviking, as legions of Internet fans dubbed him, became the star of a thousand hilarious remixes and an icon of Web culture—which, it turns out, is something he neither asked for nor wanted.
Earlier this year, Technoviking sued Fritsch for violating his “personality rights,” a European legal concept akin to privacy laws in the United States, and also tried to hold him accountable for those thousands of remixes.
When the dust settled from the three-month legal battle, the Landgericht Berlin court largely came down on the side of Technoviking. Fritsch was ordered to pay back all the money he made from YouTube ads on the video—about €8,000—as well as 56 percent of the trial costs and €1,500 for other legal costs. All told, he owed €15,000, or about $20,000.
He was also prohibited from displaying any media in which the Technoviking was recognizable. That was a particularly bitter pill to swallow for Fritsch, who’d made his artistic career chronicling the Technoviking meme.
“My original intention was to question reality and focus on the viewers uncertainty if this particular scene is real or staged,” he wrote in a recent statement about the case. “And this is how I personally presented my work until 2007 in the context of art..”
“As a result of the courts decision… I won’t be allowed to ever again present my film in it’s original form in public nor the total of the Technoviking-meme archive and catalogue that are the result of my extensive research.”
Fritsch sees this as essentially ruling against photographic art. He had, after all, filmed the man in a public place.
“[T]hey reasoned that (1) images from reality without manipulation are not considered as art and (2) commercial activities exclude art. Andy Warhol’s business art was 50 years ago and photography started more than a 100 years ago.”
Fritsch had just gotten back from camping trip with his daughter when he learned Technoviking was appealing the ruling to the Kammergericht Berlin, which is only one step removed from Germany’s equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court.
That means Fritsch—who’d hardly gotten rich off the video—will have to spend even more time paying off legal costs.
“For me this means not only more years of uncertainty but also financial and professional ruin,” Fritsch wrote in an email to the Daily Dot.
Since the Technoviking largely came out the winner in June, it’s not entirely clear why he’s appealing. There were two key areas where the court ruled against him, however. For one, it refused to award him €10,000 in pain and suffering. And it also only forbade Fritsch from using his likeness; the Internet at large was untouched by the court’s decision. So he’s either after the money, the Technoviking meme itself, or both. If the court’s ruling implies that other Internet users are just as responsible for infringing on the Technoviking’s “personality rights” as Fritsch, we might see a barrage of lawsuits coming of Germany.
Still, there’s a risk to any appeal, and that makes Fritsch at least a little optimistic. Technoviking’s legal ruthlessness might backfire. The higher court might just rule in Fritsch’s favor this time around.
In the meantime, Fritsch hoping the same community that crowdsourced the making of the Technoviking meme will also crowdfund enough money for him to film a documentary about his experiences. But with just four days left, Fritsch is still €3,600 short of his €10,000 goal.
Thousands of anonymous strangers around the world made Fritsch’s video an integral part of Internet history. But do they have the back of the man behind the camera?
Screengrab via TodayTomorrow