Copyright Law and Memes

  • August 22, 2019
  • Fatima Anjum

In 2015, Getty Images brought litigation against, a German blog, for using the socially awkward penguin meme on their website. This meme, like other memes, was based off of an original piece of media, mimicked and shared for entertainment purposes. Getty Images held the license to the image of the penguin used in the meme. In response to the lawsuit, published a statement against Getty Images’ suit[1] which generated a discussion online about the significance of memes in today’s online culture. eventually stopped posting the meme on their website, but the question remained: what is the role of copyright law in the context of memes? Given their increasing relevance, it is only a matter of time before this question comes before Canadian courts.

What are Memes?

Memes can be defined as “an idea, behaviour, style, usage that spreads from person to person within a culture,”[2] usually for humorous purposes. Popular examples include the socially awkward penguin or the condescending Willy Wonka meme.  

Memes in Canada

The Copyright Act of Canada (“the Act”) creates statutory rights and obligations expressed in the form of property rights. While using an original media image may infringe on the image creator’s rights under the Act, the Act does not necessarily prohibit individuals from creating or using memes that incorporate the original image. Unlike in Germany, there is an exception to copyright infringement under section 29.21(1) of the Act for non-commercial user-generated content.