In a faintly surreal legal contretemps, Axios reports that Activision is taking YouTube and TikTok music critic Anthony Fantano (also known as theneedledrop) to court. Activision is suing Fantano to stop him from suing it first, after the critic took issue with the company using an audio clip of him in a 19-second TikTok video about Crash Bandicoot-themed sneakers.
You might be familiar with the Fantano clip in question. It's also known as the "Enough slices!" meme and was taken from one of the critic's 2021 TikToks in which he reacts with increasing horror as a pizza is cut into ever-thinner portions. The audio has been used in countless videos since it was first uploaded, but Fantano took issue when Activision used it in one of its own TikToks uploaded in June (it's since been taken down).
In court filings from Activision, the company describes itself as "the latest target of Fantano's scheme" to "selectively [threaten] to sue certain users of the Slices Audio unless they pay him extortionate amounts of money." Activision claims that Fantano told it he had done the same thing to other clip users before, who "paid a similar sum in order to avoid the expense of litigation." It doesn't say what that sum is, mind you.
In Activision's version of events, "Fantano suddenly decided that Activision’s video infringed his publicity rights and constituted a false endorsement" before demanding "that Activision either immediately pay him substantial monetary damages or be prepared to defend a lawsuit," even after the company took the video down.
Activision says it therefore "had no choice but to seek declaratory relief from this Court," meaning to take Fantano to court in the hope that it will make a statement declaring Activision's use of the meme as justified by TikTok's terms of service, which say users can "extract all or any portion of User Content created by another user to produce additional User Content".
Activision also hopes the court will agree that "no reasonable consumer would mistakenly believe that Fantano … sponsored or endorsed Activision or its video merely because the Slices Audio was included in that video," and that he "granted to TikTok a perpetual, royalty free, license to exploit and to sublicense to its users to exploit the Slices Video and Slices Audio on its platform" when he uploaded the original video.
I've reached out to Fantano to ask for comment on Activision's lawsuit, and I'll update this piece if I hear back.
While I can understand confusion as to why Fantano might take issue with one single use of his voice even as thousands (perhaps millions) of others go unremarked upon, I have to say I'm not particularly keen on handing giant corporations even more licence to do whatever they want with people's voices and likenesses once they've been uploaded online. We'll have to see how this one eventually shakes out, but for now I admit it's got me feeling a little uneasy.