Monday, July 14, 2008

Principles of Escalation

A few months ago lawyer Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Fountain discussed how the Sad Kermit online videos had been the subject of intellectual property litigation. Unhappy copyright holders were unhappy with depictions of a dissolute version of the familiar green muppet engaging in intravenous drug use, oral sex, and prodigious bouts of vomiting.

The creator's current page contains the disclaimer that "Sad Kermit is in no way affiliated with Disney or The Jim Henson Company. Sad Kermit is an adult parody and is NOT suitable for children. Discretion is advised." The site solicits PayPal donations for bandwidth costs and legal fees, while also taking requests for possible sad songs for the famous frog to perform. It explains the narrative behind Kermit's much-watched renditions of "Hurt" or "Needle in the Hay" as follows: "Soon after the death of Jim Henson, Sad Kermit spiraled downward into a life full of addiction, romance and pain. The songs and videos on this webpage shed light on Sad Kermit's descent into his dark, hurting world." What's particularly interesting about the send-up of "Hurt" is that it is as much an homage to Johnny Cash's version of the song, which transforms it into a tale of mourning, as it is a parody of the nihilistic indie rock original.

Of course, trying to shut down the site has only made it more of an Internet meme. More technically crude videos have been made with still images and other depressing songs sung in Kermit's voice, such as "Hallelujah," which is also described as a cover-of-a-cover (Leonard Cohen via Jeff Buckley). And anyone familiar with this meme will recognize the references in "Kermit the Frog reacts to 2 girls one cup" and "Kermit shows Rowlf the Dog '2 girls 1 cup'," which have received almost five million views combined.

Some might argue that it is better to just ignore Internet parody rather than engage with it litigiously, as George Lucas does by allowing viral videos like "Darth Vader in Love." But with Jim Henson having been such a revered figure and so closely linked to his ping-pong ball eyed creation, it may be difficult for stakeholders to do.

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