How My Personal Photo Turned Into an Internet Meme

In 2008, I had this kooky idea to take my then 4-year-old son out to an abandoned road and throw him into the air, since it seemed most fathers like to do this with their kids. There was this long, abandoned road near my house, so we set up there. After getting my Nikon D200, self-timer, and tripod ready, my son decided that he didn’t want to be thrown into the air, so I just held him up instead. I then took another photo of myself looking up with my arms extended.

Using Photoshop, I created a manipulated photo showing him many feet above me, exaggerating the results with the assumption that most people would know I didn’t/couldn’t actually do this — I’m not that strong:

I posted it on Flickr in August of 2008 and people liked it. Then a few nights ago, my friend on Facebook shared a funny meme that has been circulating around the Internets the last few days. I was shocked to find it was my photo, manipulated and annotated with the following phrases (and I’ll admit, it’s funny):

I asked the Facebook page to remove it, but the admin replied, “Tell that to all the websites with this photo. It’s everywhere”. Oh boy.

Soon I discovered it on the front page of Reddit, being bounced around Tumblr, pinned all over Pinterest, and across joke and mommy pages on Facebook. It was even translated into a Russian-language photo showing my son being hit by a missle and me being hit by some sort of Soviet transport vehicle:

The best part was how certain people responded to seeing the photo(s) — they believed it was real:

What it all comes down to is this: the photo was stolen. No one paid me a dime to use it, and it has been seen by millions of people. Both my son and I are identifiable in the image.

No one was hurt. No one was disgraced or humiliated, and Child Protective Services didn’t come knocking on my door. It’s all good fun.

Nonetheless, the photo was stolen and edited without my permission. I just wish I had a penny for every time it was viewed/shared — my son could have his own college scholarship. He’d be willing to be tossed into the air for that, but that’d probably be bad for his brain.

About the author: John Mueller is a professional wedding, portrait and landscape photographer based in Ventura County, CA. He is active on Flickr and on on Facebook.

  • Dave Strain

    Seriously… So if I “copy” the complete works of a best selling author and post them for people to read on the internet, give no credit to the rightfull author and then even though I don’t sell the product I charge people access to the site or make money from advertisers on the site that would be fair use? … Eric really

  • Dave S.

    “the Internet” he posted it on a site that states what rights are available for the image according to use and this one is marked as all rights reserved so it is not public domain… intelligence, try it you’ll like it

  • Bryan Sheasby

    If the complete works of a best selling offer were published in a manner where you didn’t have to pay for them in order to access them, then basically this is bound to happen. However, it is not a bad thing. We’ve been over this with the music industry. At first they had a cow every time a song was listened to and not paid for. They claimed it hurt sales and cost them money. Now, they did a 180 and actually post their own music to youtube on purpose so people can listen to it for free. It doesn’t hurt sales. The only infringement you need to worry about is the pure corporate/commercial use of works like in advertising or in a product for sale.

  • Bryan Sheasby

    Actually, fair use is up to the courts to decide and not a bunch of random people posting on an internet article comments section.

  • Bryan Sheasby

    Can you show where in U.S. law it says you must register copyright?

  • dbur

    Oh get over it. This is satire. Satireists don’t care about copyrights. Just enjoy the fame you got for free. If you have commercial value photos take steps to protect them instead of just posting them on facebook.

  • dbur

    (facebook ->flickr)

  • Katherine Walton

    It is not necessary to register copyright.

  • Nathan J. Brauer

    I really wish I knew what it translated to…

  • John Mueller

    You show me where in the law that this is stated and I’ll buy you a car. What you’re explaining to people is wrong and illegal. It’s not “fair use” if the photo was never used with permission, and I never gave permission for anyone to use this photo of me and my son.

  • John Mueller

    So like you said Nathan, the sites using my photo here as media content have advertisers making $$$ for them. So yes, someone stole my image and are using it to make money. The content creator (me) should be compensated, but I don’t expect to ever see a dime.

  • asdf

    “I just wish I had a penny for every time it was viewed/shared” It wouldn’t have been viewed/shared so much if it had cost money to do so.

  • MYA

    Not sure about how right or wrong it is to use a picture that was put on a public sight”?” But what I was kinda, “Huh?” about is the fact the he complained he & his son could be identified by the picture. It could be of any number of father and son, the only way to be identified is to tell people it’s of “Him & His Son”. I mean seriously That could be my Husband & Child, I would not be able to identify someone from this pic. But his complaint about his picture taken is why I don’t put personal pics on a public sight.

    I find it a cute and relatable pic.

    Just my 2cents. :)

  • Keith McMullan

    Very interesting to read. I tumbled to this page accidentally and couldn’t leave until I’d read all the way through. I understand, John, that you are a professional photographer so I get it that you’re mad about it having been stolen and you’re not being paid for your work. Sorry…

  • Dale-Ann Ernewein

    The bottom line is, if you don’t want something to fly about the Internet, then don’t post it on the Internet

  • jack

    That was not the point of the article, but a throw-away, wrap-up line. Welcome to light-hearted writing, and turn that frown up side down.

  • von

    where do we send our pennies…I remember seeing this and it rang so very true for me. it’s amazing how easy it is to appropriate other peoples photos.