With all the hoopla about having to keep beloved divas Katy Perry and Taylor Swift away from each other at the Grammys, it seems the estranged duo do have one big thing in common: a litigious bent against fans crafting items in homage.
One of the highlights, if you could call it that, from this year’s Super Bowl was the lackluster performance of “Left Shark” from Katy Perry’s halftime show. Perhaps even more than Malcolm Butler’s last-second, game-winning interception, the halfhearted shuffle of Perry’s backup dancing fish is memed into the cultural fabric.
As with any moment that captures the hearts of the masses, enthusiastically entrepreneurial types were quick to jump on board, and soon you could buy anything from tank tops and t-shirts to mugs, sunglasses, and, to the chagrin of Perry’s camp, 3D printed statues.
Created by 3D sculptor Fernando Sosa, the Left Shark figurines were something of an afterthought.
“Honestly, I didn’t even notice the left shark during the Halftime Show,” Sosa told The Daily Beast via telephone. “I actually thought the drunk, deflated looking ball was funnier.”
It wasn’t until a couple days later, when Sosa noticed the plethora of Left Shark memes trending in his Twitter feed, that it captured his imagination.
“Twitter made it Left Shark, and then it became, ‘Oh, I’m having a Left Shark kind of day,’ or ‘I’m such a Left Shark when it comes to dancing.’ I was actually inspired from Twitter more than the half time show.”
After that the frumpy fish stuck with the artist, and the next morning he went to work.
“I woke up at four o’clock in the morning, modeled it, and got it ready for 3D printing. I finished it at like 10:30,” he explained. He then posted his creation on Shapeways, an Etsy-like 3D printed item marketplace. “I’m a small business, an artist. I don’t have that much following. So I have to promote it. And I started promoting it on Twitter at around 10:45, and I sold my first one at 11:07. It’s one of the fastest selling products that I’ve done.”
But far from cranking out mountains of shark dolls, Sosa’s initial stock was limited.
“I only had fourteen. And the next day, Shapeways contacted me and said, ‘We have a cease and desist from the lawyers.’ I thought they were kidding me.”
But they weren’t.
Arguing that the blue shark character was a piece of Perry’s intellectual property, her lawyers were insisting Sosa stop production immediately. A heavy handed message, for an artist who was only banking, after fees, about $10 per piece, and right in line with T Swift’s team’s legal assault on fan-made Etsy items bearing her now-copyrighted turns of phrase and likeness.
“It cost more money to send the cease and desist than I had made,” Sosa said incredulously. “If you were a lawyer in L.A. working for Katy Perry, I’d think your time is worth more than $140.”
Initially cowed, and with the Shapeways item page taken down, Sosa was planning on just letting it go. But then, when he shared the letter on his Twitter feed, it went viral, and lawyers popped up to point out that Perry’s legal ground was shaky, at best. So he had a lawyer of his own respond, and resumed sales via Etsy.
“I think I’ve sold 80 or 90 now,” he mused, adding, when asked if he had anything he wanted to say to Perry directly: “I wasn’t trying to take money from her pocket. It wasn’t my intention, I’m just a small business, I was trying to do something cool and funny. I didn’t go into this with a bad intent, I just wanted to make a little bit of money.”
It’s also worth mentioning that Sosa, who has a long history of making incredibly detailed caricatures of pop culture characters and political figures, from Heisenberg and Chris Christie sculptures to Putin and Phil Robertson butt plugs, says he’s never had to deal with a cease and desist before.
“I’ve had death threats, but never threats from a lawyer.”
Welcome to the big leagues.