Beware the Slender Man: Intellectual Property and Internet Folklore

48 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2017  

Cathay Smith

The University of Montana Alexander Blewett III School of Law

Date Written: March 6, 2017


Internet folklore is folklore created collaboratively online, within Internet communities, through memes, blogs, video games, fake news, found footage, creepypastas, art, podcasts, and other digital mediums. One of the most striking examples of Internet folklore is the mythos of Slender Man. Slender Man originated on an Internet forum in mid-2009 and quickly went viral, spreading to other forums and platforms on the Internet. His creation and development resulted from the collaborative efforts and cultural open-sourcing of many users and online communities. In the case of Slender Man, users reused, modified, and shared each other’s Slender Man creations, contributing to his development as a crowdsourced monster.

This Article uses Slender Man as a case study to examine the creation and production of Internet folklore and cultural products online, and explore how intellectual property law treats these types of collective creations. Specifically, it traces Slender Man’s creation, development, and propertization to explore collaborative creation and ownership rights in Internet folklore. Collaborative creation of cultural products is a familiar story. But who owns those works? And what happens when those works, such as Internet folklore, are propertized? In this Article, I analyze claims to own Slender Man’s character under copyright law and Slender Man’s name and image under trademark law. I argue that even though parties claim to own Slender Man, Slender Man’s character, his name, and image are in the commons, free for anyone to use for their expressive works. In spite of their status in the commons, the claims to own cultural products under intellectual property law and assertions of those claims cause uncertainty and chill creativity, which ultimately harms the public by depriving it of more creative works.

Keywords: slender man, copyright, trademark, character copyright, character trademark, folklore, internet folklore, digital folklore, collaberation, cultural product, appropriation, exploitation

Suggested Citation

Smith, Cathay, Beware the Slender Man: Intellectual Property and Internet Folklore (March 6, 2017). 70 Florida Law Review __ (Forthcoming). Available at SSRN: or

Cathay Smith (Contact Author)

The University of Montana Alexander Blewett III School of Law ( email )

Missoula, MT 59812-0002
United States

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