The video of a Chinese frog performing the worm dance becomes a sensation.

Debate over intellectual property is sparked by the trend of the “Frog seller” amid concerns of copyright infringement.

An anthropomorphized frog has become an influencer in China, joining the ranks of celebrity live-streamers and social media commentators. This trend, originating from street sellers in Chinese cities, has now gained traction online. However, it has raised questions about who owns the intellectual property rights to this dancing amphibian, also known as the “frog influencer” or “frog seller”.

This meme involves an individual dressed in a frog suit with a blue neckerchief, selling frog-themed products like balloons and toys. The key to going viral on social media, though, is dancing. In one video, a frog seller can be seen doing the worm in a gym. Another clip features a frog seller showcasing various dance moves, including the floss, to a disgruntled traffic police officer before riding off on a scooter.

It is believed that this trend started in September 2022 when a woman in Nanjing, named Tong, wore a frog costume to sell frog balloons. A video of her caught the attention of internet users, leading to numerous imitations.

On Chinese Valentine’s Day, an elderly man in Beijing donned a frog seller suit to surprise his partner with a giant teddy bear, sparking discussions about “true romance” when the video went viral.

This trend has also ignited a more serious debate regarding intellectual property. Tong was accused of stealing the design of her frog suit from the popular 1980s Chinese cartoon series, Calabash Brothers, where one character, Red Toad, is a frog sporting a distinctive red neckerchief.

In an interview with China Intellectual Property News, Tong defended herself, stating, “I modified the color, body shape, pattern, and head size, but the overall image of the toad in nature is there. No matter how I modify it, it does look very similar at first glance.”

Experts and commentators have shared their opinions on who should have the rights to a dancing frog. Professor Long Wenmao from East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai argued that Red Toad from Calabash Brothers and Tong’s frog seller are distinct. Long described Red Toad as having an “evil and mischievous air” compared to the “cute and innocent image” of the frog seller.

On the other hand, Wu Yunchu, one of the original creators of Calabash Brothers, expressed no interest in pursuing Tong for copyright infringement.

Some commentators have taken a more philosophical stance on the matter. Journalist Yang Xinyu wrote in an essay for China Youth Daily, “In a sense, the frog costume is an actor’s mask and a warrior’s armor. While it gives the person outside the mask laughs, it also shields the person inside the mask from the bitterness and sweetness of life.”

Additional research by Chi Hui Lin

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