Beware the Slender Man: Intellectual Property and Internet Folklore
48 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2017 Last revised: 25 Nov 2018
Date Written: April 1, 2018
Internet folklore is created collaboratively within Internet communities—through memes, blogs, video games, fake news, found footage, creepypastas, art, podcasts, and other digital mediums. The Slender Man mythos is one of the most striking examples of Internet folklore. Slender Man, the tall and faceless monster who preys on children and teenagers, originated on an Internet forum in mid-2009 and quickly went viral, spreading to other forums and platforms online. His creation and development resulted from the collaborative efforts and cultural open-sourcing of many users and online communities; 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 online creation and production of Internet folklore and cultural products and to 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? What happens when those works are propertized? This Article analyzes claims to own Slender Man’s character under copyright law and Slender Man’s name and image under trademark law, and ultimately argues that even though parties claim to own Slender Man, Slender Man’s character, name, and image are in the commons, free for anyone to use in her own expressive works. Claims to own cultural products under intellectual property law, and the subsequent 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
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