Zoë Roth sells 'Disaster Girl' meme as NFT for $500,000

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The Disaster Girl memeImage source, Dave Roth
Image caption,
Zoë Roth's father, Dave, took her picture outside a controlled burn in 2005

The woman in the viral "Disaster Girl" meme has sold the original photograph for $473,000 (£341,000).

Zoë Roth, now 21, became an internet hit when she was pictured aged four standing in front of a burning building with a devilish smirk on her face.

The image has since become a meme for anyone hoping to depict a disastrous scene or mischievous act.

Ms Roth sold it at an auction on Thursday as a non-fungible token (NFT) - a digital ownership certificate.

In January 2005, Zoë Roth and her father Dave went to see a controlled burn - a fire intentionally started to clear a property - in their neighbourhood in Mebane, North Carolina.

Mr Roth, an amateur photographer, took a photo of his daughter smiling mischievously in front of the blaze.

After winning a photography prize in 2008, the image went viral when it was posted online.

Ms Roth, now a university student, has sold the original copy of her meme as a NFT for 180 Ethereum, a form of cryptocurrency, to a collector called @3FMusic.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Zoë Roth, now 21, says she has found the viral success of her meme "crazy"

An NFT is a unique digital token, encrypted with an artist's signature, which verifies its ownership and is permanently attached to the piece. It allows original versions of popular online content - such as viral memes and tweets - to be sold as if they were physical pieces of art.

The NFT is marked with a code that will allow the Roths - who have said they will split the profit - to keep the copyright and receive 10% of profits from future sales.

Since it first emerged the "Disaster Girl" meme has taken on a life of its own. Meme-makers have edited it into images of natural disasters and accidents such as the Titanic.

Ms Roth says she has enjoyed seeing the hundreds of version of her picture.

"You just make it fit however you want to fit it," she told the New York Times. "I love seeing them because I'd never make any of them myself, but I love seeing how creative people are."

Media caption,

Digital-only artwork by Beeple sold for $69m (£50m)

The market for ownership rights to digital art has boomed this year after several multi-million-dollar NFT sales.

On 19 February, an animated Gif of Nyan Cat - a 2011 meme of a flying pop-tart cat - sold for more than $500,000.

Ms Roth said she would donate the proceeds from the sale to charities, as well as use it to pay off her student loan.

"People who are in memes and go viral is one thing, but just the way the internet has held on to my picture and kept it viral, kept it relevant, is so crazy to me," she told the New York Times.

"I'm super grateful for the entire experience."