A legal look at memes

Most memes are created by combining images with text, thereby creating entirely new meanings and contexts. They spread virally across the Internet and find many viewers because they have a high entertainment value due to their funny, ambiguous or even socially critical character. Memes are thus found on many social media, websites and blogs and are generally considered accepted.

However, like almost everything, memes can be considered legal and may infringe rights or violate policies.

The following legal categories can be used to categorize problematic memes that are not always liked by those affected, so deletion options are sought. Of course, memes also exist in “mixed forms”, when the respective meme can be classified into several case groups at the same time – due to the different possibilities of interpretation and ways of looking at things, one can of course come to different results:

  1. Memes that use images of people should be attackable by the respective image rights holder on the basis of an image rights infringement. The image right holder could therefore have injunctive relief or claims for deletion, at least if he or she is not a person of so-called absolute or relative contemporary history.
  2. Memes that are very racist, sexist, discriminatory, etc., despite the satirical and ambiguous packaging, may violate the platform operator’s guidelines such as community standards, so that one can at least report this content to the respective platforms in order to have it deleted. In the case of quite explicit content that is at the same time severely insulting to a certain person, inciting people to commit crimes, etc., it should also be possible to have it deleted via the so-called Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG), which is usually faster, especially if a lawyer requests it.
  3. Memes that clearly disparage companies using the word/figurative mark could, in my opinion, not only be attacked for possible trademark infringement, but also for infringement of the so-called right to established and practiced trade with which a company can also defend itself against damaging value judgments or statements of untrue facts.

As can be seen, there may in any case be legal options for certain memes. Combinable measures are also conceivable, such as deletion by the respective platform operator by notification and/or invocation of the NetzDG and simultaneous claim against the responsible party on the basis of image rights, trademark rights or infringement of the right to established and exercised business operations.

However, this always requires a case-by-case consideration and also depends on whether the responsible party or owner of the account is known or not.

Prof. Dr. Frank Tapella

Prof. Dr. Frank Tapella>19 Beiträge