Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose is fat now. He knows it, you know it, and it's fine because he's not 20 anymore. Still, the internet did its thing with a particularly unflattering photo taken at a 2010 concert and turned it into a meme that's pretty much just about how chubby Axl Rose is these days.
Rose has been desperately trying to wipe this image and the memes it's spawned off of the face of the internet through numerous takedown requests under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. According to TorrentFreak, the company that sent the takedown requests maintains that Rose asks all photographers at his shows to sign a contract that transfers copyright of the image to him.
The photographer, Boris Minkevich of the Winnipeg Free Press, could not be reached for comment in time for publication. However, a statement sent by email said that the paper retains control of the image.
"The Winnipeg Free Press holds editorial copyright on the image and has not approved any third-party usage," the statement said. "We were only recently made aware of these memes, and while we ethically don't approve, viral media is impossible for us to regulate."
This makes Rose the latest celebrity to try and use copyright to remove embarrassing photos from the internet—Lenny Kravitz notoriously claimed copyright on the many videos and images of his floppy dong that circulated around the web last year—a practice that Canadian internet lawyer David Fraser described as "abusive."
"That doesn't relate to the copyrighted nature of the work, it relates to the unflattering nature of the photo"
"Really, is this what the DMCA was intended to do?" Fraser said. "If it's being used to take down an unflattering photo, that doesn't relate to the copyrighted nature of the work, it relates to the unflattering nature of the photo."
Many of the memes and images targeted in Rose's takedown campaign are still live, including the original image on the Winnipeg Free Press' site, which indicates to Fraser that there may be some disagreement about with whom the copyright lies. Rose may elect to proceed with litigation to get the images removed, however.
Base-level legal effectiveness aside, Rose may actually be playing himself on a social level, too. The Streisand Effect holds that trying to erase something actually draws more attention to what would otherwise fly under the radar. For example, objectively bad memes that say things like "Remember the 80s? He ate them."
"It would have just been one of the millions of memes that have come and gone, but you send a DMCA notice and that becomes the story," Fraser said. "It puts the image that they're trying to repress in front of everybody's face."
Successful or not, Axl Rose's aggressive takedown campaign hasn't done much more than remind everyone that a very bad photo of him exists on the internet.
UPDATE: This article was updated to include a statement from the Winnipeg Free Press.