Lots of people love to go online and look at memes. They're funny, and they spread like wildfire across social media platforms.
Not everything is as innocent as it seems, though, because memes can violate the copyrights of those who created the original images. Additionally, sharing memes might violate the rights of the person who created the meme, creating another legal issue.
Aren't memes intended to be shared?
They may be, but that doesn't mean it's always going to be legal to do so. A person who creates a popular meme that is used by others to create T-shirts or products could argue that their work is being used for profit against their wishes.
Someone who has their work or image used in a meme might ask the creator of the meme to take it down or sue them for damages when their privacy and personal life is affected. Additionally, they may lose out on sales from products containing their image, even though someone else used their image to create products.
A good example might be if you create a meme with Grumpy Cat. Grumpy Cat is famous, and the name and image of the cat is protected. If you share a meme, that might not be a serious problem, but if you were to print and sell the meme, that's an entirely different issue. When you make a profit off another person's property, it could lead to that individual filing a lawsuit against you in a worst-case scenario.
What should you do if someone steals your copyrighted images?
If you are the victim of someone who has stolen your work and created a meme, you can ask them to remove the original from the internet. However, it is normally difficult to stop the spread of memes once they begin. In that case, you may want to seek compensation from the person who started the spread of a meme using your copywritten materials. If they are profitting, or if others are profitting, from your work, you may also be able to ask them to stop selling the products and potentially to pay you for the use of your protected images.
Laws regarding memes aren't always clear, so people involved in these cases may need to work closely with their attorneys to prove that their rights were violated and to make sure they get the compensation they deserve from those who stole their work.