The owners of feline internet sensation Grumpy Cat have applied for trademarks over a wide range of merchandise, such as cell phone covers, beer mugs and video games. The cat’s lawyer, however, says the owners will “try to be cool and stay righteous” about kitty-related fan art, and will only go after “dirtbags” who defiantly attempt to cash in.
The plan comes as the fame of Grumpy Cat, a Snowshoe Siamese with a perpetually dour expression, continues to grow. Last week, the cat stole the show at the tech and music festival, SXSW, where people lined up for hours to take pictures with her. Grumpy Cat was also hired by BuzzFeed but had a bad first day on the job.
The trademark applications, which also cover hoodies and comedy videos, were filed in January on behalf of Ohio-based Grumpy Cat Incorporated. Los Angeles lawyer Kia Kamran, confirmed by email that the company is controlled by Tabatha and Bryan Bundesen, the siblings who own the cat and helped build her fame.
Kamran, who also represents Mike Tyson, says he hasn’t filed any Grumpy Cat lawsuits yet, but probably will soon in response to the “current wave of infringers that are popping up.” He adds that, while he’s sensitive to the cultural dimensions of internet memes, he’s had to take action on behalf of other clients, Nyan Cat and Keyboard Cat.
Standing up for the feline will be a challenge, however, since Grumpy Cat is a cat not a person. Unlike human celebrities, animals can’t invoke “personality rights” which let them control their image. The Bundesens, if their application is successful, will nonetheless be able to control the commercial use of the phrase “grumpy cat” and photographs they own of the cat.