Mom of 'Success Kid' Threatens Congressman Steve King with Legal Action

Laney Griner says that King's use of her son's image in a new campaign ad was done without her permission.
Bettina Makalintal
Brooklyn, US

"Success Kid," or the image of the baby with a fistful of sand, has been a meme since at least 2008, according to Know Your Meme, and since then, Sammy Griner's likeness has been used in everything from a British Virgin Media ad to a Vitamin Water campaign to a tweet by the Obama-era White House account.

Laney Griner, Sammy's mom, has been pretty flexible with the image's usage, having approved deals with Hot Topic and Radio Shack and acknowledging that the result has been mostly good for the Griner family. In 2013, she told Florida's WJCT that the meme provided helpful income, and when Griner's husband needed a kidney transplant in 2015, Sammy's online profile helped them raise $101,000 on GoFundMe.


But Griner is not down with an unsanctioned new usage of her son's image. As TMZ reported, Griner sent a cease-and-desist letter to Iowa Congressman Steve King yesterday over his use of Sammy's photo in a new ad. Sammy's image was superimposed in front of the Capitol building beneath the words "fund our memes!!!" in an ad for the Republican Congressman's re-election campaign on WinRed, an online donation platform, according to Buzzfeed News. It was also shared among the memes on King's Facebook page. King's Facebook post sharing the WinRed link had been removed as of yesterday afternoon, per Buzzfeed.

Griner took to Twitter yesterday afternoon to disavow Rep. King and his political views. As she wrote in a thread, Griner, her son, and the "Success Kid" meme have no affiliation with King and that she didn't agree to King's ad. Griner took the original photo in August 2007, according to Know Your Meme, and uploaded it to Flickr, where it still reserves all rights by copyright law and refers people to Griner's email for usage inquiries. The meme is about "positivity and celebrates achievement," she added.

"I do not endorse Representative King and, like most people, I strongly disagree with his views," Griner wrote, "Representative King should remove 'Success Kid' from his webpages immediately, issue a statement to acknowledge that the image […] was taken without our permission and endorsement, and refund the money his campaign received from misusing 'Success Kid.'"

Rep. King has a long history of racist, anti-immigrant sentiment. Last January, he was removed from the Judiciary and Agriculture Committees of the House of Representatives after asking why white supremacy was considered offensive. In August, King commented that the human race would barely exist without rape and incest. In December, he called the West a "superior civilization," and just this month, King claimed that "weaponized" words like "white nationalist, white supremacist, Nazi, [and] fascist," were part of a resistance movement funded by George Soros.

As Griner wrote in a Twitter post last week, "I have/would never give permission for use of my son’s photo to promote any agenda of this vile man or that disgusting party."