How To Use Memes As A Business

Originally Published October 2019

Memes are fun. Cats, movie stills, all that stuff. It’s fun to send them to friends, or use meme GIFs in message replies. And they’re great for business because visual info, like a meme or video, tends to be shared about 40 times more often than straight text. But, can you use memes as a business without getting into legal trouble? 

If you don’t have three minutes to read this whole article, check out our 30-second YouTube video on using memes on business social media.

Can I Use Memes As A Business?

The short answer is: It Depends. While you should always consult your own attorney when dealing with copyright issues and your business, every use of a meme needs to be judged on its own merits. 

Still photos are “entire” works – there’s nothing more to it, so if you use it you’re using 100% of the creative work. That means you’re more liable if the creator comes after you. A single frame of a movie is a fraction of a second from perhaps two hours – maybe 1/14,000th of the entire creative work. You’re much less likely to get in trouble using a movie still. 

It’s also important to take care of who is shown in the meme. If it’s an unknown person, they may have rights to the image as well, so the artist and subject of the photo could come after you. If it’s a movie, the actor has usually signed away rights to the production company, so you’re in the same position you were before.

Our Use Case For Memes In Business

Let’s say you found the perfect meme for a digital marketing agency – Bruce Banner/Hulk. Can you use it?

In this particular case, I would vote “yes”. The image used is a very small part of the original work – a fraction of a second still from a two-hour-long movie. The text is half of a line from the movie, the other half original. In this case, the likelihood of a lawsuit is very minuscule.