Can I print social media memes on T-shirts no pictures just words?
I wanted to know the legality of using word memes found on social media on a t-shirt. They are reused by so many people that it is impossible for any one person to claim ownership. I would of course use original or public domain photos and artwork to supplement my designs. Please advise.
Copyright infringement is rampant on the internet. Some uses may be covered by fair use exceptions to copyright, such as news reporting, but generally memes don't fall into these exceptions. Unlike the general internet user where recovery of substantial damages may be difficult to obtain for the copyright holder, if the shirts are a success the profits become a tasty target for a copyright infringement suit. Consult an attorney before you start. They can help you navigate the copyright laws.
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You should start from the assumption that everything you see online is protected by copyright as someone's created work. Just because you may see something used by lots of users doesn't change that. There's a ton of infringement on the internet, which has made copying on a large scale much, much easier than it once was. A conclusion that since "everyone's doing it, it must be legal" is flat out wrong. Infringement builds on itself, as many infringers take false comfort in the fact that they're just one of many. But would you even notice if some of those infringers disappeared because they got sued, and were just replaced by new infringers?
Every IP work has to be evaluated individually. There's also no one-size-fits-all blanket rule for "all memes" or "all slogans."
Social media posts are now eligible for copyright, so using those is risky. https://www.copyright.gov/grtx/
Consult your own IP lawyer before going forward.
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