Copyrights and memes

Glenn W. Peterson

Memes are popular all over the internet, especially on social media. California social media users likely repost memes without ever giving a thought to copyright protection. Many may even wonder if memes can even be protected by copyright. The basic idea of a copyright is it offers protection to any written work that is published, so a meme could very well be protected.

According to, most memes are available to use under fair use protection. However, others may be copyrighted or trademarked. Famous memes, such as Grumpy Cat, are protected, which means a person must ask permission to use it in any way. When it comes to fair use, though, a person must assess how they will be using the meme. Fair use generally only offers protection if the meme is not being used for profit. In most cases, this means a person will be fine to repost a meme on their social media page to share with friends.

The bigger concern, according to Plagiarism Today, is the use of memes in advertising and for commercial reasons. Essentially, as soon as someone creates and publishes an original meme, they own the copyright to it. Anyone not able to claim fair use is violating the copyright and can be pursued for damages in a lawsuit. The main takeaway here is that anyone using a meme for personal use is probably going to be okay, but if a person wants to use a meme to help them gain a profit, then they should be aware of the copyright they could be violating.