Toronto Police Department Constable Adam Josephs rocketed to instant Internet stardom when footage of his encounter with a soap bubble-blowing protester at June’s G-20 conference was captured by a reporter from TheRealNews.com and subsequently went viral. On camera, Josephs threatens to arrest the young female protester, saying, “If the bubble touches me, you’re going to be arrested for assault.”
Thus, Constable Josephs’ Internet meme was born. Rechristened “Officer Bubbles,” a series of cartoons and user comments mocking Josephs appeared on YouTube. Claiming defamation, Josephs has filed suit against YouTube and several of the commenting users.
“Officer Bubbles” isn’t the first unintended victim of Internet infamy who has tried to wage war against his or her own meme (often with mixed results)…
A Tale of ‘Epic’ Proportions
As reported in The Guardian, in 2006, a teen named Alix Bromley posted pictures of herself to a social networking site – pictures which were then copied and distributed around the Internet under the meme “Epic Boobs Girl.” Once the pics turned up in a seedy British magazine, Bromley filed a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission, citing an invasion of privacy. In its decision, the Commission dismissed the complaint on the grounds that they “…did not think it was possible… to censure the magazine for commenting on material already given a wide circulation…”
The ‘Cyberslap’ Heard ‘Round the World
Some accidental net celebs have used lawsuits simply to uncover the identity of their anonymous detractors – it’s called “cyberslapping.”
Former model Liskula Cohen once became an Internet sensation after she was referred to as a “skank” and “an old hag” in a blog poetically eitled “Skanks in NYC,” according to the New York Daily News. Cohen sued, and a judge ordered Google to reveal the name of the blogger so that Cohen could pursue defamation charges. The real aim, however, was to “cyberslap” the blogger by outing her to the public.
Two twists: First, Cohen may have attracted more attention to the unflattering publicity because of her legal action, and, second, the blogger ended up filing a lawsuit in 2009 – against Google – for revealing her name to Cohen (although ReputationDefender apparently thinks little of her chances).
‘Star Wars’ Kid: The Meme Strikes Back
Admit it. You watched this video about 10 times with a sense of dreamlike fascination. You guffawed at the calisthenics on display by the young man from Quebec who twirled his way into Internet lore. However, being known as the “Star Wars Kid” was a living hell for Ghyslain Raza, the subject of perhaps the most popular viral video of all time.
Citing “‘harassment and derision from his high school mates and the public at large, resulting mental illness (as reported by Wired), Raza’s family filed suit against those who uploaded the video. Since the standard for defamation is lower in Canada than in the United States (“actual malice” need not be present), the Razas may have had a case. In the end, they settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
In the final analysis, Josephs may simply be using his lawsuit to push for an out of court settlement. After all, the “Officer Bubbles” cartoons are parody and many of the YouTube commenters have already “cyberslapped” themselves by willingly coming forward in defense of “fair comment” practices. Although Josephs could claim that he has been “lowered in the estimation of the community” under Canadian law, potential defendants would simply argue that his actions at the G-20 rally had already done so. Sorry, “Officer Bubbles.” Your sense that you have a case may be a bit inflated.
Adrian Morrow, “‘Officer Bubbles’ Launches Suit Against YouTube.” The Globe and Mail
Kevin Parrish, “‘Officer Bubbles’ Suing YouTube, Commenters.” Tom’s Guide US
Nazrul Islam, “‘Officer Bubbles’: From Bubbles to Bookings?” TheRealNews.com
Roy Greenslade, “PCC Clears Loaded Magazine for ‘Epic Boobs Girl’ Pictures Taken from Internet.” The Guardian
The Press Complaints Commission (London, England)
George Rush, “Outed Blogger Rosemary Port Blames Model Liskula Cohen for ‘Skank’ Stink.” The New York Daily News
“Rosemary Port’s Privacy Lawsuit Against Google is a Guaranteed Loser.” ReputationDefender
“Star Wars Kid Files Lawsuit.” Wired News Report
William Wei, “Where Are They Now? The ‘Star Wars Kid’ Sued the People Who Made Him Famous.” Business Insider
Maureen O’Connor, “What to Do If You Become an Internet Meme.” Gawker.com
Lloyd Duhaime, “Canadian Defamation Law.” Duhaime.org