Volume 110
Issue
Fall '21

Copyright & Memes: The Fight for Success Kid

Written By: Cathay Y. N. Smith & Stacey Lantagne

Abstract

This Article explores the complicated relationship between memes and copyright. Internet memes have become a ubiquitous part of social communications. They effectively express an idea, message, or sentiment, often more humorously and efficiently than words. Most memes evolved from original content that Internet users found online and copied, altered, shared, and imbued with new cultural and social meaning. Because memes frequently involve the unauthorized use, alteration, and sharing of a content creator’s original image or photograph, they naturally implicate the content creator’s copyright. But who owns a meme? What rights, if any, does the creator of the original content have in a meme derived from the work? What rights, if any, do the users of the meme have? This Article examines the current copyright case Griner v. King, involving the unauthorized use of the highly popular Success Kid meme, to explore doctrinal uncertainties involving copyright authorship and ownership, abandonment, social media sharing and implied licensing, and fair use in Internet memes. 

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