Do Memes Violate Copyright Law?

Originally posted 2018-11-19 11:20:04

By Laura Schrauth |

Anyone who has used the internet in the last several years has undoubtedly seen or heard of memes.  Meriam-Webster defines memes as, “an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that are spread widely online especially through social media.”[1] While memes are enjoyable and sometimes controversial, they are also legally relevant.

Memes can take on legal challenges in cases where the underlying photo is copyright protected or is taken from a copyrighted work. Like any other copyrighted work, use of these photos without a license is infringement. Although an argument for fair use is a potential protection in the United States, other places, such as the European Union, lack fair use considerations in their copyright laws.

How do you protect your memes or prevent your copyrights from being used in memes? If you want to create a meme, it’s always an option to seek a license for the image prior to use. On the flip side, copyright owners can, with the help of their attorney, seek action by asking the creator to remove the meme, issuing takedown notices, cease and desist orders, or even filing infringement suits.

While memes are a relatively new legal consideration, they are a legal consideration nonetheless. Understanding their impact on your business may help usher you into the world of social media marketing and internet business.


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