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Memes and copyright

An image, video, any quote, etc., by imitation when passed from one individual to another is considered to be a meme. In today's era the meme culture is so much popularized that it has become a part of our society.  The term meme (from the Greek mimema, meaning “imitated”) was introduced in 1976 by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his work The Selfish Gene[1].The memes which are most prosperous in getting intimated, becomes the part of our culture moreover memes are not having any market value that is they (memes) cannot be considered as a merchandise.

According to section 2(c) of the Copyright act, 1957 creation of a meme is considered to be an artistic work, which includes painting, sculptures ,drawings (including diagrams, maps, charts, or plans), even the engraving on wood, marble, etc and the architecture work do comes under the definition of artistic work, Image or the photograph of something or someone is the most popularly copied meme and copying the meme ans sharing it without any authorization would lead to  encroachment.[2]

Memes are constantly and rapidly being copied and do gets viral on the social media platforms very easily too, but have you ever thought that copying someone's work (meme) is considered to be legal or not?. The meme creators do put upon lot of time and hard work too while creating the meme and thus are protected by the copyright law. The fact that mostly the identity of the meme creator is unknown does not allow another individual to  acquit or prevent him from legal proceedings[3].

The answer to the above mentioned  question lies within the ambit of doctrine of fair use. Section 107 of copyright act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use or not[4] Certain conditions are to be fulfilled under the ambit of doctrine of fair use, which allows an individual to use the copyrighted work in the creation of new work, without taking any prior permission.

The 4 parameters to be fulfilled for the findings of fair use are as following- (a) the purpose of using the meme (b) the amount of work to be used (c) the effect upon the society from the use of it (d) the nature of the work which is being copy-righted. Thus from the above readings we can conclude that there is not a specific answer to the question that the use of original meme is fair or not, as it varies from situation to situation, however there are some types which are generally allowed such as criticism or commentary of someone or any research work or education related meme, etc.

As mentioned above that memes do not hold any commercial value therefore they do lies under the ambit of fair use defense. But this doesn't means that anyone's photograph or anyone's artistic work or idea can be used without his/her consent. This fair use defense works only till the time, someone's privacy is not disturbed. Therefore before creating something or copying the original work of any individual, one should get all the necessary licenses and approvals done so as to prevent any kind of legal liability or legal action in mere future.

References
  1. The term meme (from the Greek mimema, meaning “imitated”) was introduced in 1976 by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his work The Selfish Gene https://www.britannica.com/topic/meme
  2. https://www.mondaq.com/india/copyright/668356/memes-and-copyright-fair-use-or-infringement
  3. The fact that mostly the identity of the meme creator is unknown does not allow another individual to  acquit or prevent him from legal proceedings  https://hutchersonlaw.com/do-memes-violate-copyright-law/#:~:text=Memes%20are%20protected%20by%20copyright%20law.&text=Although%20it%20may%20not%20seem,creator%20from%20enforcing%20their%20copyright.
  4. Section 107 of copyright act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use or not https://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html#:~:text=Section%20107%20of%20the%20Copyright,may%20qualify%20as%20fair%20use.

Written By: Anirudh Gupta

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