We have an idea but we need permission


Dealing with copyright is a tough situation with today’s law – when having instant access to technology and content from all over the world at the touch of a button, what is the chance that we have downloaded or just seen something that has been copyrighted, or even without knowing that it was copyrighted – we must be a felon!

We are constantly connected to the internet in today’s society and so we have a constant access to what other people do and create, we can watch but cannot touch. However the strict laws that apply with copyright today were not always the case – just around a century ago Walt Disney had an idea of cartoons and music synchronized to form a brand new idea – his creation of Steamboat Willie now famously known as Mickey Mouse. The idea Walt Disney had created went further in utilizing stories that other people had created and giving those stories a new sense of being. Explored by Lessig Walt Disney has created a culture that is still relevant today and without taking the stories of others Disney Inc. would not be what it is today.

The constant development of the internet and the culture that it has created, there is an obvious creation that if copyright was severely enforced there would get a lot of people in trouble. I am talking about the Meme – from cats to people, objects to human imagination, the internet has created and utilized the meme as an expression of today’s time.

Copyright meme

Memes have infiltrated all mediums of communication and are troublesome when it comes to copyright, particularly when dealing with viral memes, as shown in this article on Forbes.com – Warner Brother has been sued for using Nyan Cat and, other cat based memes in one of their games.

The culture that technology and the internet has created is one of freedom for expression and creativity – while the law of copyright still looms, the use of the internet and the collective creations that come from it are an example of what people can do without the restrictions of copyright.

12 responses »

  1. I think you’re right that it is way too easy for us to access copyrighted material. But finding a way to slow this is virtually impossible. ‘Information wants to be free’, and the inter-noded network of the Internet isn’t going to assist in regulating the access of its users. I had honestly never considered memes as copyrightable material, a very interesting point. But I wonder, like Disney, is the task too great now to sift through every meme, every infringement and gain the correct royalties? Arguably that task would be greater than suing Disney I would imagine, so perhaps Bad Luck Brian is yet again unlucky in that regard. Great blog.

  2. I had never considered memes to be a challenge to copyright but they definitely are. Great point!
    Going from Jake’s comment above I believe that it is too hard to police and pursue every single person that is infringing upon copyright law and therefore companies will only pursue a case against someone if it is worth their money and time. I know that it is easier to target the hosts of websites rather than their users who are publishing the content.
    I recall a case we studied in a subject last year where a New Zealand man who hosted a file sharing site was targeted by the CIA and extradited to the USA to be trialled for hosting unlawful/copyrighted material on his website. The man hadn’t published anything himself but had provided the means for other users to do so and as such he was the one that was targeted and trialled for such crimes. What becomes scary here is that a nation like the USA can target someone from another country for breaking US law. Even though copyright is set by country, those that share links to other countries often have similar laws and can find people guilty of breaking laws in one country even if they are citizens of that country. Yay globalisation!

  3. Nowadays, we can easily access to copyrighted material and it’s also very easy to copy it. I think we should be able to copy other work as long as we give credit of the work to them. Copyright is important but what I disagree with copyright law is about the length of it, i think it’s too long.

  4. Its definitely interesting to see the contrasting culture of the internet freedoms and copyright restrictions clash on a regular basis. I’ve always agreed with the idea that people should be able to reuse and reproduce your work as long as they don’t stand to greatly benefit from it. Like with your example of memes, if i use an image, post it as a meme under a made up name on Reddit, gain nothing except a bit of karma, but add to the pool of content that is out there then hooray for me. I hope some common sense is introduced to these laws in time.

  5. An interesting point to take from your comment about internet culture is that, perhaps, copyright comes down to culture. Songs such as happy birthday are so inherently tied to our culture that it seems ludicrous that a company can claim ownership. Miley’s VMA performance has been called an ‘appropriation’ of black culture. It is impossible to claim ownership over a culture, especially in a society that democracy underlies. There is a line between a physical item being reproduced and an idea being spread. Coming back to memes, like you say, it is a form of expression in the internet culture. It is hard to harness a thought, because it’s not truly there and it is shared by many, making it public domain.

  6. I agree how can copyright continue to exist when we have been infiltrated by the culture of technology and the internet. You say in your post that it is one of freedom for expression and creativity or that it should be but copyright is one element and ultimately a huge barrier which is still holding us back.

  7. Kinda uncertain about if memes violate copyright as i remember images are not protected from copyright except someone claim it? But anyway, totally agree about copyright material is too easy to access, in fact i actually support all those creativity should be protected by the copyright law, but only under the condition of allowing people to fair use those contents.It is very hard to draw or define the line between fair use and violating copyright.

  8. Memes are one of those fringe cases. Alot like picking up random images off google. it’s a common practice, but a politically incorrect one. Definitely creates alot of problems when the original owner of the image finds out and starts looking for royalties.

    Over the past few years there’s been a content explosion, mainly pushed by the meme. And I think it has really shown why the current copyright laws aren’t going to work long term. People just can’t keep a hold of where everything the produce is going, that goes for superstars to an amateur on deviantart. The scope of the internet is far too great for any current solution.

  9. I agree with your points here. There is a complete disconnect between the big copyright cases we hear and see in the media between corporations, companies and powerful individual compared to the copy culture of the internet! Do people really get prosecuted for reblogging something without correctly sourcing it? People readily download TV and film, break copyright laws and fileshare, yet they jump on the newest big copyright infringement case readily and critically.

  10. ‘The constant development of the internet and the culture that it has created, there is an obvious creation that if copyright was severely enforced there would get a lot of people in trouble. I am talking about the Meme – from cats to people, objects to human imagination, the internet has created and utilized the meme as an expression of today’s time.’
    That is a thought provoking paragraph. We create memes using images from recordings but then what if that image that is from a real life recording is then copyrighted? The copyright would terminate the meme lifecycle. The extraordinary thing about a meme is that it wasn’t technically imagined by anyone one particular person, it’s a collection of data smashed together to create a image that is witty, ironic, etc. The meme then as a whole, illustrates a reflection on life. The extraordinary part though is it was actually created by machines, yes we put the image and text together but we copied them from random bit of data, that wasn’t intended to be a creative image; we turned it into a creative expression but only with the help of randomly generated data. So with that in mind copyright would be claiming ownership of a machine’s partly owned product, wouldn’t that be contradicting the principal of copyright? I don’t know, post your thoughts…
    This video sums up the idea of the meme as a singularity, which involves the world’s consciousness acting as one big generative machine.

  11. Great post! I really liked the example of Warner Brothers being sued. Getting a taste of their own medicine, it is satisfying to hear that one of the giants isn’t getting away with taking someone else’s work. Perhaps this case study may be a small wake up call for the big company with the issues of copyright, it is funny to think that this very basic Nyan Cat animation could cost Warner Brothers a lot.

  12. The concept of a meme being under scrutiny for copyright has never been a notion I considered liable until you raised it. Meme’s fill our daily news feed on social media so it would only seem reasonable that the thousands of times certain pictures have been re-edited and remixed for publishing purposes online can definitely become liable for copyright and defamation if the person in the image did not consent to its use. However in relation to your point about freedom of creativity online, a censorship of memes due to copyright issues would be an impingement on the internet’s shared pool of knowledge. I think memes are a remix and at the end of the day everything is a remix.
    Check out Kirby Ferguson’s brilliant evaluation of copyright and remixing.


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