Sunday, December 03, 2023

What's In A Meme?

What's In A Meme?

In a fund-raising email, with the subject-line "Fight For The Memes", Christian Romero of the EFF Membership Team wrote of memes:

"Support your right to have fun online."
"Dear Supporter of Digital Freedom,

One of the internet's great joys, for me at least, is seeing all the fun and creative ways that people use memes to express themselves. It can be a silly way to convey your feelings about a TV show, or even to critique the government. These fun images and videos are a great reminder about the freedom of expression and creativity the internet allows us to have.
But, for all the good the internet does, there are still those trying to bend its capabilities to take advantage of the users..."

I take issue. Does one have a right to have fun online?  A "right? Strictly speaking, probably one does not have such a right, any more than one has a right to party, unless --like adverse possession-- it can be established by multiple years of continual use which is never legally challenged.

Memes are not enumerated in the Constitution. One does not even have the right to "happiness" or great joy, but only "the pursuit of happiness". 

What is a Meme?  Grammarly explains at length.

They cite an example of a meme, and interestingly, that meme was challenged by a songwriter and artist best known as Prince. That case took eleven years, and ended in a settlement. It may not have legally established that anyone has the right to use copyrighted music in their short, visual creation for sharing.

Much would depend on the four factors of fair use. For a full explanation of the four factors, see here:
EFF team member Christian Romero mentions silly cat pictures, which might remind some of the copyright infringement lawsuit brought and won in the name of the Grumpy Cat, who was a meme star and some company went too far with their interpretion of what one can and cannot do with even a cat image.
Any old cat may not have image and personality rights, but a sensational cat might be worth the thousands of dollars it takes to trademark an image.
Jeff Williams of The Williams IP law firm explains Image and Personality Rights. Here:
Many memes are a few witty words imposed on a photograph of a well known actor. That might be all well and good, providing the actor does not violently disagree with the sentiments that the meme creator associates with his/her/their likeness. One might imagine that, if the funny meme is political in nature, or causes perceived reputational harm, there could be trouble, not only for the meme creator, but also for anyone who "shares" or "reposts" it.
The Electronic Freedom Foundation gives blanket permission for anyone to quote anything that they write as long as one gives credit, and a link to the source.
This is the EFF creative commons license wording.
For good measure, here is a link to some of EFF's articles on the topic of  Free Speech.

For anyone puzzled by the link I applied to "great joy", my earworm of the day is Marianne Faithful's line "danger is great joy" from her Witches' Song from the album Broken English.

My title, "What's In A Meme?" is inspired by a much-misunderstood, balcony scene soliloquy by Juliet in the Shakespearean play "Romeo and Juliet". I would call it a soliloquy rather than a monologue because she believes herself to be alone, and does not know that Romeo is eavesdropping. She says, "What's in a NAME?" and goes on to say that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet". By the way, "wherefore" meant --and still means-- closer to "why", but certainly not "where".

All the best,

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