Have you heard the horror stories about companies and individuals being sued because of copyright infringement? Thanks to the Internet, and to common misconceptions about usage rights, there are several situations which could cause serious legal trouble.

For instance, memes.
Above: Grumpy Cat®  became an Internet sensation in 2012 after this meme
was shared via Reddit. Her real name is Tardar Sauce, and she has a unique
condition called “feline dwarfism.” More information about Grumpy Cat® can
be found online at www.grumpycats.com.

You’ve seen them: that iconic, always unhappy little brown cat; the cartoon girl who obsesses over finishing EVERYTHING; or that girl you would never want to date. Memes are images, videos or text shared rapidly by people via the Internet. They often surface in your newsfeeds, and almost always make you laugh. You may have even shared one on your business’ social media site before.

A word of wisdom: Don’t.

It’s no surprise that many businesses and marketing agencies want to capitalize on these funny photos, but it’s important to know that there may be legal risks associated with their use. Instead of sharing the widely popular photos already online, we suggest using your own photos or illustrations with catchy sayings. At the very least, you should make sure you’re using an image that has been labeled for reuse or reuse with modification.


Above: You can filter image search results in Google by selecting “Search tools,”
and then clicking the  “Usage rights” tab and selecting “Labeled for reuse” or
“Labeled for reuse with modification.”

There are many different issues that arise under the umbrella of copyright law, so it’s important to be sure you know what you’re working with, especially when it comes to publishing that work on the Internet. There are three types of copyright licensing: traditional, public domain and Creative Commons. Traditional copyright licensing means all rights are reserved by the original creator or copyright holder, and public domain foregoes copyright so the public can use and alter the item or idea.

Creative Commons licenses are a fairly new concept, introduced by Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig in 2001 and released in 2002. They consist of many subcategories, all of which allow for a different level of permissions. The following information is taken from the Creative Commons website, www.creativecommons.org:
Attribution (CC BY) – This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation.

Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) – This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND) – This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) – This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) – This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND) – This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

Regardless of what you’re sharing on the Internet, it’s important to make sure you have the correct permissions to do so. The best way to do this is to create and share your own work, or to make sure your marketing agency has a firm grasp on usage rights.