I’m talking about memes today after a Dwight Schrute meme gave me a parenting smackdown.

Do you remember This is 40, a movie about a couple approaching 40 while dealing with struggling businesses, a shaky marriage, and bickering kids. A running joke throughout the movie was the 13 year old binging the show Lost.

With 118 episodes, each one averaging 40 minutes, that works out to approximately 79 hours of TV watching.

At the time I watched the movie, I was neither 40 nor had a 13 year old. With self-righteous indignation, I wondered how bad must those parents be to let a 13 year old girl spend a week watching 79 hours of an adult show.

Now, I am north of 40 (just barely, still in the low 40s) and have a 13 year old daughter. A 13 year old daughter who just spent a week binging The Office. With 188 episodes, each one averaging 22 minutes, that works out to approximately 69 hours of watching an adult show.

Do not judge less you be judged folks.

So why would a 13 year old, whose never had an office job (or any job) give up a week of Christmas vacation to watch reruns of The Office? She really likes Dwight Schrute memes.

Ah, the power of the meme.

Millions of memes are created and shared each day. They’re like an inside joke shared with millions of people. Create a meme that goes “viral” and you are internet royalty.

So what are the risks involved in creating and sharing memes?

You read that right. The lawyer says there are risks. Of course the lawyer thinks there are risks.

Creating Memes Using Someone Else’s Image or Character

Newsflash folks. Not all photos and images on the internet are free.

In fact, most of them are not.

This is true even if they can be seen by millions of people, from New York to Katmandu, and can be copied with a couple clicks of a mouse.

Whoever took the original picture or created the original image (or paid someone else do so) owns the copyright. Copyright includes the right to create derivative works, including memes.

So you can’t just copy a photo off of the internet, pop it into a meme generator, and share it with the world.

Do people really care about copyrights?

You bet they do.

I have fielded many a panicked phone call from people who got a nasty demand letter from one of the stock photo websites for using a photo on their website without first buying the license (or using the photo in a way that exceeds the license).

Okay, so on a scale of 1 to 10 how nervous should you be when you create a Dwight Schrute meme?

1 to 2, for a couple of reasons.

As you might imagine, it would be incredibly difficult for copyright owners to go after the thousands of people creating memes out of their original photo or image. Also, most people who create memes (like college kids) lack assets to make it worth while to sue.

Memes may fall under a defense to copyright infringement called “fair use doctrine.” The lawyer in me would love to go into an in depth analysis of the fair use doctrine and how it would apply to memes, but the decades long People Magazine subscriber in me knows not a single one of you wants to read it.

Finally, I am guessing whoever owns the rights to The Office not only is not going to come after you for your witty Dwight Schrute meme, but is going to be happy you shared it. Why? It keeps The Office relevant, relevant enough to catch the attention of a 13 year old girl who was a toddler when the series signed off.

With that said…copyright owners can and still do enforce their rights, particularly the stock photo websites. Especially the stock photo websites. And especially if you are using someone else’s photo or image on a business website or social media account.

Sharing someone else’s meme

Guess what? Meme’s have copyrights too.

So everything I said above about using someone else’s photo or image applies to memes.

No surprise, copyright law hasn’t caught up yet to memes and there hasn’t been a whole lot of litigation over meme copyrights. Frankly, by the time it does, we will have all moved beyond memes.

Should you be worried about sharing memes on your personal social media accounts or your blog? Nope.

Should you be worried about sharing them on your business social media accounts or your business website? Maybe, if your use of the meme could be interpreted as advertising your business.

What’s your all-time favorite meme? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Copyright © 2019 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.

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