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Welcome to the jumbo: Axl Rose tries to take a bite out of 'Fat Axl' internet meme

Take you down to the bakery city, where the pies have cream and the cakes are tasty

Legendary rocker Axl Rose has faced struggles with drink and drugs, but he may have bitten off more than he can chew with an effort to remove his own fat meme from the internet.

Back in 2010, at a concert in Winnipeg, Canada, Rose appeared on stage in a red bandana and an unbuttoned shirt: traditional garb for the Guns n' Roses frontman. However, fans had not seen him for several years and were stunned when pictures of the concert showed he had put on an enormous amount of weight.

It didn't take long for the internet to discover a new meme: Fat Axl. And since Rose is a world-famous singer, there was instant comic vocabulary to play around with.

Despite the meme happening six years ago, this week Rose decided he had had enough and issued takedown notices to Google, Facebook and YouTube, claiming the pictures violated copyright, and demanding they be taken down.

The claim is that the photographer who took the pics – Boris Minkevich of the Winnipeg Free Press – did not sign a release and so the pictures are effectively Rose's property.

Minkevich doesn't recall whether he signed a release or not, but it is highly debatable whether the company Rose paid to issue the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notices can put claim to the photos without going through the law courts: something reflected in the fact that Google et al have so far refused to take down the pics.

They are also available on the (flattering) original story written about the concert by the Winnipeg Free Press, although we note they're no longer available for purchase in the paper's image library.

But the man behind the pics, Minkevich, points to a further reality: none of the many tens of thousands of copies of his photos available online have his permission either.


Before the internet, there were only a very few photos that become so iconic that the ability to control their usage was effectively lost. There is the story of the famous Che Guevara profile picture taken in 1960 by Alberto Korda.

Korda took a very relaxed view of his copyright since he believed in what Guevara stood for, and following his death, felt the propagation of the image was a fitting tribute. He does still sue if people use the image in ways that he feels damage his legacy – such as when he sued Smirnoff vodka in 2000 and settled for a $50,000 out-of-court settlement.

Even photos like Muhammad Ali standing over a defeated Sonny Liston have retained a strong element of copyright despite their iconic status. But increasingly that control is only effectively exercised over high-resolution and high-quality prints.

The internet, by its very fast, almost disposable nature, doesn't care much for copyright. And of course, there is the fact that if changes or alterations are made to a picture that give it a different meaning, it can start straying into the realm of artistic ownership (although we doubt the addition of a heavy sans-serif font with sarcastic messages would suffice).

The way we were

The bigger problem for Rose, of course, is not the seemingly impossible task of scrubbing the internet of photos of his overweight self, but what we all now know as the Streisand Effect.

By trying to get the pictures taken down, we've been reminded of Fat Axl all over again. And, of course, the accompanying pictures have been reposted many more millions of times.

There is a more serious side to the images of course. Fat-shaming is something that applies not just to women, and society continues to find it amusing and acceptable despite the clear and unnecessary pain it causes. That's true even if you are a world-famous rock star.

On the other hand, it's hard to see how laws could be devised that would protect these very rare incidents without having a disproportionate impact on the ability of people to communicate or, more accurately, without swamping internet companies with billions of requests.

The reality is that if Axl Rose wants Fat Axl relegated to the past he can do one of several things:

  1. Continue singing and giving concerts and fill the internet with many more pictures of himself.
  2. Give up trying to remove the pictures and let the goldfish-like internet move on.
  3. Stop giving a damn.


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