Internet sensation Grumpy Cat appeared in federal court last week and ended up setting a legal precedent, but she still isn’t smiling.
The six-year-old part calico is looking forward to a big delivery of catnip, now that an eight-person jury awarded $710,001 to Tabatha Bundesen, the caregiver who keeps the moody meme full of Friskies. Her real name is “Tardar Sauce” and she lives in the rural desert community of Morristown, Arizona.
$710,000 was awarded “for copyright and trademark infringement.” The extra $1 is “nominal damages on the breach of contract claim.”
Nobody had any idea back in 2012, when Tabatha’s brother Bryan posted the first image on Reddit, that dump trucks full of cash would soon be backing into the driveway. The kitty’s iconic sneer, caused by a combination of feline dwarfism and “a pronounced underbite,” took the internet by storm. Soon, Grumpy Cat was pulling in money like a Columbian drug lord.
Tabatha quit her job waitressing at Red Lobster and formed Grumpy Cat Ltd. to represent the star’s interests. Images with such unforgettable phrases as “I had fun once. It was awful” went viral, “spawning reams of ‘lolcat’ memes” and promoting the family pet into “a hugely lucrative brand.”
A father and son put their heads together in 2013 and decided to market “Grumpy Cat Grumpuccino.” They arranged a license, paying $150,000 in “advance royalties” allowing their company, Grenade Beverage, “the use of Grumpy Cat’s image” in a line of iced coffee drinks.
Things didn’t go as well as expected, and there were more than a few snags getting the product off the drawing board and onto the shelves. In 2015, the Sandfords decided to branch out and market a whole line of Grumpy Cat related products, without first renegotiating the license.
“In 2015, the beverage company decided to create a line of ‘Grumpy Cat Roasted Coffee,’ which was not in the original deal, prompting Grumpy Cat Limited to file a copyright lawsuit in federal court.”
Grenade was “also selling unauthorized Grumpuccino T-shirts which ‘blatantly infringe on the Grumpy Cat copyrights and Grumpy Cat trademarks’ without sharing the profits” The Sandfords weren’t even “paying the agreed-upon percentage of profits from the iced coffee.”
Tard, as her friends affectionately call her, was present in the courtroom, safely contained in a pet carrier. As attorneys made their opening arguments, she attentively watched the proceedings alongside her owner.
Even before she made her appearance, U.S. District Judge David Carter assured those present “She’s not going to be passed around.” Ms. Bundeson showed her to the “jury of five men and three women” when she testified.
Grumpy Cat actually had something to be grumpy about, her lawyer wrote in the lawsuit.
“Ironically, while the world-famous feline Grumpy Cat and her valuable brand are most often invoked in a tongue-and-cheek fashion, Defendants’ despicable misconduct here has actually given Grumpy Cat and her owners something to be grumpy about.”
After the jury heard both sides of the dispute, with Defendants claiming that what they paid for, gave them the right to use Grumpy Cat’s image, name, and good-will any way they wanted. They claimed the other products were only necessary because Grumpy Cat didn’t hold up her end of the bargain by promoting the product.
A contract is a contract and it didn’t take the jury long to decide in favor of the ever offended feline. “We asked the jury what they thought was right and they came to the right conclusion,” Jonelis observed.
“I think, first of all, that it’s a just verdict. The jury followed the law and facts and reached a verdict that was justified based on the law and the facts. It’s nice that my client’s rights were vindicated on this. It was a hard-fought battle.”
The Grumpy Cat brand has grown tremendously in a little over five years. “Grumpy Cat became a celebrity in her own right, making cameos in films and TV shows, appearing at Comicon and red carpet premiers and featuring in a host of lucrative merchandise deals.”
Clothing, books, even a Christmas movie. “The company has produced a line of branded clothing, pillows, mugs, pens, bags and books ‘written’ by the unhappy cat, including a New York Times bestseller.
Tardar Sauce has “appeared on ‘Today,’ ‘Good Morning America’ and even ‘American Idol.’ She has starred in a commercial for Honey Nut Cheerios and became an official ‘spokescat’ for Nestle’s Friskies cat food in 2013.”
Grumpy cat is rumored to be worth up to $100 million dollars but Ms. Bundeson insists “the figure was ‘inaccurate‘ although she refused to disclose her pet’s true income.