The definition of the world “meme”, in the broadest sense, is “An idea, behavior, style or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture”. Internet memes are a subset of that behavior that takes place online, where people spread a cultural touchstone from person to person, often referred to as going “viral”.
But what is and is not a meme can be tough to define. After all, a meme can be almost anything including a hashtag on Twitter, a photo with changing user-generated captions and even a short video a cat pretending to play a keyboard.
All that’s required is that a cultural item be spread from person to person rather than some soft of central source.
However, this spread of content creates a series of difficult questions with regards to copyright. Though it’s easy to think of memes as being owned by no one, rather a creation shared by the Internet, the law often thinks different as many memes do qualify for copyright protection and were, at some point, created by someone who holds that copyright.
These issues are likely going to grow as memes grow in importance commercially. This was illustrated recently by a lawsuit filed against Warner Brothers and game developer 5th Cell. In the lawsuit, Charles Schmidt, the creator of the Keyboard Cat meme and Christopher Orlando Torres, creator of the Nyan Cat meme, claim that their works were unlawfully used in various Scribblenauts games and are seeking damages for trademark and copyright infringement.
Though the likelihood of success of that lawsuit is up for debate, it is clear that this will not be the last time copyright and memes cross paths.
However, that doesn’t mean that the party has to end…Continue Reading