The curious case of Technoviking

All hail Technoviking!

Gather around people, and hear the story I have to tell. This is a story of techno music, street rave parties, guerilla film-making, Internet memes, and one badass hulk of a man.

Yes, this is the story of Technoviking.

During the 2000 edition of the Love Parade in Berlin, protesters created their own political event (adequately called the F*ck Parade) in response to some restrictions imposed by the organisers. During the party, a film-maker named Matthias Fritsch positioned himself at the back of a truck that was playing techno music, and was therefore being followed by a number of revellers, it was a perfect position to get a sense of the ambience. He shot a video of the dancers, and thus managed to immortalise an occurrence that has enthralled millions.

The video shows a  woman with a blue wig dancing in front of a small crowd, then a man who is clearly not in full control of his decision-making skills comes into the shot and pushes her. That is when our hero makes his appearance. A man with no shirt, and a beard and haircut that would not be out of place in the set of Vikings.  He restrains the attacker, admonishes him, and then starts following the van dancing like the techno deity that he is.

Others dance to the music, the music dances to Technoviking.

A legend is born… but not immediately.

The video stays undiscovered in Mr Fritsch’s own website for almost seven years. In 2006 he decides to upload his videos to YouTube, and from there the video begins to get some traction.  Sometime in 2007 it was posted in a porn forum in Latin America, where it made its jump into 4chan. The reception there was fantastic, and it was quickly  turned into probably the first Internet meme.

Andres Guadamuz
And on the seventh day, Technoviking rested.

The whole point of viral content online is that users will take a popular video and re-use it. It is the fantastically rich creativity what makes the Technoviking meme so enduring. As an artist, Fritsch was happy for people to  make use of the original, collecting and curating all of the originality on display. At the same time, he hadn’t made a lot of money out of the endeavour; in 2009 he used Cafepress to print mugs and t-shirts for sale, he licensed the video for a couple of shows, and had earned about €10,000 EUR in YouTube revenue.

This is where the real Technoviking enters the scene once more, just as unexpected as his sudden appearance in the video.  It is easy to forget that beyond the meme, Technoviking is a real person, who apparently did not take the sudden fame kindly. Lawyers sent a letter to Fritsch asking for €250,000 EUR and threatening legal action. He did not comply, and in July 2012 he was sued in a civil court in Berlin for violation of image and personality rights, and for breach of privacy. Fritsch asked for the case to be dismissed, but the court sided with Technoviking (ruling in German here).

The court refused to consider the privacy issue, but agreed that there had been a violation of image and personality rights, and decided that Fritsch had to pay €8,000 EUR out of the YouTube earnings, and just over €2,000 EUR from the Cafepress merchandise royalties, as well as the trial and legal costs. Similarly, Fritsch is not allowed to display Technoviking in any video, not even in pixelated form, he must be completely erased digitally.

This is a remarkable decision for many reasons. Firstly, it is quite interesting that the court relies on image rights instead of privacy to attempt to give the affected party some form of redress. Secondly, the injunction only affects Fritsch, so every other version of the meme is not affected by the Berlin ruling. I doubt that the objective of the ruling was to try to erase Technoviking from the Internet, as such an attempt would prove futile. Technoviking lives on.

There is potential for further developments in the case. In 2013 Mr Fritsch started an Indiegogo campaign to fund a documentary narrating the story of Technoviking, but it didn’t meet the goal of €10,000 EUR. The documentary is still going ahead, I’ve had a quick look at about 15 minutes of footage, and it is fascinating. The documentary complies with the injunction and does not show Technoviking, he is completely blacked out, making for a powerful visual metaphor of online censorship. I for one cannot wait to see the full version.

Stay tuned, I suspect that we haven’t heard the last of Technoviking.

By the way, the music in the video is Panderator by Cruise Control. You’re welcome.

Edited to add: The documentary has now been released. Lots of interesting legal discussion.

Comments 12

    1. Good point. All Your Base was definitely a meme, but I wouldn’t class the dancing baby gif as one. Technoviking is one of the first in what could be classed as the golden age of 4chan memes: Philosoraptor, fist pump baby, etc.

  1. My very limited understanding of US copyright laws tells me that the person who takes the photo/video owns that as property and can do what he/she wants with it. this is particularly true if the video/picture was taken in public. I presume based on this ruling that the same is not true in Europe, or specifically Germany?

    1. You are correct when it comes to copyright, but this is a case about personality rights. People have a right to their own image and likeness, so whenever you are filmed, you have a right to object to being shown. This is the main reason why Google Street View blurs out people’s faces.

      There are exceptions to this right, such as when you as incidentally being caught on camera in the background. See:

  2. What exactly is so curious about this case. You can’t make money off someone else’s likeness without their concent. This is not a new subject, people get sued for trying to make money off a celebrity or famous persons likeness.

    1. It’s a rhetorical device, like “The curious case of Benjamin Button”, or “The curious case of the dog in the night time”. It’s a fantastic story regardless of the law, don’t you find it interesting?

  3. Regarding the push that possibly started it all @0:37…. Was Techno Viking:

    [A] pissed off with Singlet Dude because he thought the “attack” on Blue Hair Girl was intentional, and a complete dick move? Techno Viking angrily sent him back to the truck to protect the girls from harassment and to keep him from further mischief?


    [B] looking out for his friend the Singlet Dude, believing he was in no state to be wandering around the streets of Berlin? And being his friend, maybe Techno Viking knew he had to tell him very sternly to go back and sit on the truck, because he tends to do really stupid shit and not listen to anyone when he’s in a drug-addled state?

    Singlet Dude was clearly not in full control of his coordination, and it looks like the push on Blue Hair Girl was COMPLETELY ACCIDENTAL.

    About 2 minutes afterwards the camera pans left and there is a clear shot of Singlet Dude @2:45 sitting on the back of the flatbed truck with his feet dangling over the end, so I assume that’s also where he was just BEFORE his grand entrance into the video…. Singlet Dude gets off the back of the truck but doesn’t stick the landing, and he stumbles forward towards Blue Hair Girl. In fact, considering his state, I thought he did quite well to recover and try and grab her as gently as possible without sending her flying.

    But notice how he immediately wants to keep on walking somewhere in the near distance. Blue Hair Girl was not his target. After Techno Viking grabs him, Singlet Dude makes an attempt to continue walking, and it looks like he points and tells Techno Viking where he wants to go. But the bearded God is having NONE OF IT and makes him go back and sit on the truck.

    Those few seconds were the only part I couldn’t really figure out, and, erm, anyway…. they were the 2 theories I came up with. I initially thought [A] for sure, but after a few viewings I’ve decided on something closer to version [B].

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