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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Memes, Can I use them?

Memes, those great images of Grumpy Cat or Captain Kirk with a humorous phrase that spread virally over social media, what a great way to promote your writing....right?

I love those old style ones that scold people into proper comma usage that people create using someecards. It says on their site they are free. But if you read their terms of service it is clear that it is free for personal use only: "You CANNOT use the Services to create advertising, promote a product, brand, Web site, social media program, community page, or Facebook fan page without written permission."

So what about the ones with Captain Kirk or Ryan Gosling? With Captain Kirk you are infringing on trademarks. With anything else, remember that copyright at its core is easy as I talked about in an earlier post, Hippy days of the internet are over. Either you took a picture and then it belongs to you or you didn’t take the picture and then you need to ask permission to use it.

With Ryan Gosling, or even your cousin, as Andy Goldstein states in his article, Technology: Internet memes pose legal questions, the meme could violate an individual's right of privacy when used for commercial purposes.

So what can you do? You could create your own memes using images that are out of copyright or that you own the copyright for? However, they may not capture the Zeitgeist aspect that is so essential to a meme going viral.

Deborah Sweeney in her article, The Copyright Conundrum of Memes in Social Advertising, argues that homemade memes often feel forced and cheapen your brand. I am not sure I agree. Do you?

But I am not a business, you say, I am just a writer. Or, we are a non-profit organization, you say, so not a commerical enterprise. Right? Ask yourself this question, are you using social media to promote your work or your organization? If the answer is yes, then, in the eyes of the law you are using works for commerical purposes and the fair use argument does not apply.

Play it safe and avoid copyright problems by avoiding memes unless you are able to make your own.


I am not a lawyer and this is NOT legal advice.

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