Why Businesses Should Beware Memes

author image Written by: Lia           Categories - Digital Marketing, SEO Tips

Memes Don’t Make For Engaging Content – And Bring Copyright Concerns

Memes are fun. They make us smile, laugh, and forget about our worries for a moment. And because memes tend to elicit such a positive response, they tend to go viral, shared by thousands of users on social media. Memes are tempting! Just like that delicious lemon pie that adorable little pug is eyeing up there… Okay, we’re not entirely above using adorable, precocious animals ourselves. Since memes have such a large reach on social media and they’re relatively simple to make, you’ve probably considered using memes in your social marketing strategies. But before you do, you should know the risks involved. Posting a seemingly harmless image of a famous poor-tempered cat could actually cost you if you’re not careful. Using Ottawa SEO services for your social advertising campaigns can help you avoid any potential pitfalls. In fact, we’re covering a few key aspects of memes and advertising here so you know how to navigate them.

Copyright Concerns

Remember Grumpy Cat, Nyan Cat, and Keyboard Cat? They’ve all got something in common, beyond being incredibly popular examples of memes (and being cats, of course).

The worst possible reaction to using a meme.
The worst possible reaction to using a meme. Gif from Baskets, 2016, on FX.
  The creator of each one has taken legal action to protect the use of their property. That’s right, each one is copyrighted or trademarked. In some cases, they’ve filed lawsuits for unauthorized use of their copyright. While you might not want to feature a particularly ornery cat to make a point, other older, popular memes might have some legal issues attached to them. It’s a big potential risk, even if it’s just a quick post to your social media accounts.

Understanding Fair Use and Fair Dealing

Thanks to fair use limitations, memes can be created and used for sheer personal entertainment and shared amongst your friends on social media. “Fair use” here refers to brief excerpts of a copyrighted work being used as-is for criticism, reporting, teaching, or research. No permission is needed for fair use. But in Canadian copyright law, there is no fair use provision. The closest analogue is “fair dealing,” which covers use for criticism, reporting, teaching, and research, but adds parody and satire. If a meme or piece of work falls in these purposes, then it’s up to you to determine fairness based on a number of factors laid out by the Supreme Court of Canada:

  • Purpose of the dealing
  • The character of the dealing
  • Alternatives to the dealing
  • Amount of the dealing
  • Nature of the work
  • Effect of the dealing on the work

And, incidentally, if a work is copyrighted in Canada, it’s automatically protected in the 176 member countries of the Berne Copyright Convention.

International Copyright

International copyright law may also play a role in what you post to your feeds.
International copyright law may also play a role in what you post to your feeds, though Canadian copyright law takes precedence.,
Things are different in the US and around the world, though. Thanks to fair use limitations, creating and using memes for sheer personal entertainment is possible. You can even share them amongst your friends on social media. There are four criteria to determine whether or not the use of a meme is a fair use:

  • The purpose and character of the use—i.e. is it for profit?
  • The nature of the copyrighted work;
  • The amount of work used in relation to the whole work; and,
  • The use’s effect on the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

When you share memes on your personal account, you are not doing it for profit, nor will your use of the meme have a negative impact on the copyright holder, if there is one. But if you use memes on your business profile to reach a greater audience—and advertise your brand—you are using it for profit, which is not fair use. But even if you’re reproducing work from another country within Canada, Canadian copyright law applies. So you’ve got to apply fair dealing anyways!

Memes are Considered Poor-Quality Content

With all the legal stuff out of the way, let’s get down to the real meat and potatoes as they relate to your brand and web presence: Memes aren’t great content. Sure, they can generate a lot of traffic and engagement, but as content – building blocks of your brand – they’re basically useless. They’re disposable content, entertaining and enjoyable to be sure, but they don’t add value. Compare that to an infographic or engaging blog post that can direct potential clients and users to your business. They’re a flash in the pan, great for getting attention, but poor at keeping it. Facebook also views memes as low-quality content, so if you post memes, they probably won’t show up on your followers’ News Feeds. Like Google algorithms, Facebook prioritizes high-quality engaging content that benefits users. Sure, memes are entertaining, providing a positive boost to our emotional well-being. But aside from the short-lived moment of hilarity, what else do memes do for us, really? So, in regards to your business page, you’re better off staying away from memes and instead posting your own high-quality content to engage your followers and increase your reach to new followers. With the help of Ottawa SEO services, you can improve your social marketing campaigns, and without the risk of any lawsuits.


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