May 7, 2013 in Business

Keyboard Cat’s creator files infringement lawsuit

Suit claims ‘Scribblenauts’ game uses his trademarked feline
By The Spokesman-Review

Fatso the Keyboard Cat, an Internet sensation thanks to the music video Charlie Schmidt recorded in 1986 in Spokane, is now at the center of a lawsuit alleging that Warner Bros. misappropriated his image.
(Full-size photo)

Fatso is back in court again.

Fatso, the keyboard-tickling cat used by Spokane graphic artist Charlie Schmidt in the 1985 video “Keyboard Cat,” is at the center of a recent lawsuit filed by Schmidt against the companies behind a popular video game.

Filed in federal court in Los Angeles, the lawsuit says Warner Bros. and Fifth Cell Media used cartoon representations of Fatso without permission in their video game “Scribblenauts.” Schmidt is claiming copyright and trademark infringement.

The suit also alleges the two companies misused images of Nyan Cat, another popular Web-based figure created by Texas artist Chris Torres.

Possible damages would be established at trial.

Attempts to reach Warner Bros. and Fifth Cell were unsuccessful.

Schmidt last year signed a settlement with a Chicago T-shirt company that used Keyboard Cat images on shirts sold on the Internet. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed and the company ceased to use the image.

In the original homemade video, Fatso wore a small shirt and seemed to play an electronic keyboard with its paws. A version of the video was uploaded on the Internet years later and soon became wildly popular.

Fatso died in 2000, but Schmidt has licensed the Keyboard Cat image and trademark. Licensing is managed by employee Ben Lashes, the son of Spokesman-Review columnist Doug Clark.

Schmidt said he learned about the “Scribblenauts” usage from people who played the game. When the first version was released in 2009, gamers sent emails to Schmidt thanking him for adding Fatso, he said.

Schmidt first registered a copyright of his Keyboard Cat creation in 2010. Warner Bros. continued to use Schmidt’s protected cat in later versions of “Scribblenauts,” right up through the latest edition released in 2012, attorney Steve Rothschild said.

That sequence of dates allows Schmidt to seek not only actual damages, but also statutory damages, enhanced damages and attorneys’ fees, Rothschild said.

What’s notable in this case, Rothschild added, is the reversal of usual roles.

“Warner Brothers is at the forefront of litigation and holding copyright violators accountable,” Rothschild said. “In our case, we’re entitled to the same rights as any other company.”

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