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Mother of "Success Kid" threatens to sue Representative Steve King for using copyrighted meme

Remember "Success Kid"?
Remember "Success Kid"? 00:47

The mother of the boy in the iconic "Success Kid" meme has threatened to sue Representative Steve King for using her son's image in his campaign. In a series of tweets Monday, Laney Griner said she never gave his campaign permission to use the meme and called King a "vile man." 

Griner claimed King used an infamous copyrighted image of her son Sam, a minor, to raise money in a fundraising campaign without her permission. Screenshots from King's Facebook page and conservative campaign donor platform WinRed show the viral image of the toddler clenching a fistful of sand under the banner "Fund our Memes!!!"

"QUESTION: Do you enjoy our memes?? If so, please click the link below and throw us a few dollars to make sure the memes keep flowing and the Lefties stay triggered. Thank you!!" the campaign's Facebook post read.

They have since been removed from both platforms, but King has not acknowledged the situation. King and his campaign did not respond to CBS News' request for comment. 

Griner said she and her son are not affiliated with King in any way, and specified that she does not endorse him and strongly disagrees with his views. She demanded immediate removal of the meme from his sites and called the Republican Party "disgusting." 

King has repeatedly faced backlash for his remarks. Prominent members of both parties called for his resignation in August after he questioned if there would be "any population of the world" remaining if not for people born as a result of rape or incest.

Griner and her attorney are demanding that King remove the meme from all content related to his campaign by 9 a.m. PT Wednesday and replace it with an image explaining that it was used without permission for 90 days. They are also demanding refunds on donations from the campaign and for donors to be made aware that "Success Kid" is in no way affiliated with King. 

"The majority of U.S. consumers reject your political and other views, often vehemently, as they have a right to do," Griner's attorney said in the cease-and-desist letter. "Those people may be repelled by any association with your politics and campaign and, therefore, unwilling to purchase products from legitimate licensees of the 'Success Kid' meme."

Griner has threatened to file a lawsuit against King, WinRed and the King campaign if her demands are not met. 

Griner first posted the "Success Kid" meme, featuring then-11-month-old Sam, to Flickr in 2007. It evolved over several years, eventually being used to describe "a situation that goes better than expected," according to KnowYourMeme, a platform that tracks viral content. 

"Everything to do with 'Success Kid' is positive," Griner told CBS News in 2016. "I so rarely have heard anything negative directed toward us."

According to the letter, Griner copyrighted the image in 2012. Companies such as Coca-Cola, General Mills and Microsoft have paid her to use the meme in advertisements — even the Obama White House used it to promote immigration reform

"We still have no explanation or apology from Representative King or his staff concerning his blatant misuse of 'Success Kid,'" Griner's attorney told CBS news. 

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