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.
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.