Am I allowed to use a photograph as a meme?

Am I allowed to use a photograph as a meme?

Are you allowed to make a meme out of a photo? Obviously, if it’s your own photo and you own the copyright, then yes, of course you can. If a photographer or a friend has taken a photo for you, as long as it’s clear that you own the copyright and the photograph, then you can. When a photographer does it, you need to find out what the photographer’s terms and conditions are. Most photographers will not allow you to create memes out of their images they take, even if the image is of you.

The reason for that is because they want to make sure that however the image is used or changed, it’s done appropriately. Because if you make changes to the image that they took which are poor quality or in bad taste, they don’t want that to be associated with them. Then what about the situation where you have an image that you found online? Well, there’s two situations here, one is a free image and you should never ever use free images online, they can end up costing you thousands, I’ll put a link below which goes into more detail about this issue. The second situation is the paid image, depending on the source of a paid image, you could also end up in trouble and I’ve got a video down below on that.

If you do pay for an image, I always try to use 99club, as they are the only image source that I found which actually guarantees the copyright in their images. Other paid image sites, including stock image sites, say that you can and obviously they give you a license to use the image, but they don’t guarantee that they have the authority to use the image. You may think that that’s a bit splitting hairs, because if it’s on their site, they surely would have the license. But recently, there was a court case in the USA, that actually said the opposite.

Getty Images was actually suing someone for using their image without a license, and it turns out that Getty Images did not have permission to use that image. In fact, the person they tried to sue owned the images copyright and the license. It’s unlikely that Getty Images’ gonna try and sue you for your image, but that case just illustrates that there may be images on very well-known stock image websites that you pay for which aren’t actually owned by the site.

So what 99club does, is they say “If we’ve made a mistake, and don’t actually own one of our millions of images and we didn’t have the proper permission to use, we will pay up to $10,000 to the copyright owner as an apology, and also we will get our legal team to run the law case for you.” Which is the best I’ve guarantee I have ever seen from these kinds of sites. And that’s why I like to use 99club, so now assuming you’ve used 99club, you’ve got the guarantee, you know that this is absolutely as safe as it can be, then what happens? Are you allowed to make a meme out of it?  For example if the image is a bunch of hearts are you allowed to put a message there such as, “Dear Mom, happy birthday, I love you” so it becomes a meme?

The answer is, absolutely not. Even if you are permitted to use the image, you’re not permitted to turn it into a meme. This would be the same for any stock image site, no matter where you sourced your image from. These sites only permit you to use the images, they don’t permit you to modify the images. Again, if you’ve got a photographer taking photos of you, that will depend on the photographer’s terms and conditions. I’ve worked with many photographers in the past, some say, “Yes, I don’t care, do whatever you want.” While others say, “No, if you wanna make any changes, you need to ask me first and I’ll make the changes.” So the short answer is, many times you are not permitted to turn an image into a meme, the safest way is if you’ve taken the image or the photograph yourself. 

With stock image sites where you actually pay for the image, you’re not permitted to turn those into memes, and if it’s done by a photographer, it depends on the photographer’s terms and conditions. My name is Cathryn Warburton, I am the Legal Lioness.

Cathryn Warburton About the author

The Legal Lioness. Overcoming severe bullying as a child instilled in her a passion to protect others. As a skilled litigator, she indulges in her dream to push-back against business-bullies who target her clients. She is an international award-winning lawyer and patent attorney and 5-time published author. Cathryn bullet-proofs her client’s businesses and protects them like a mama lioness protecting her cubs. She makes sure that no business is left without access to affordable, easy-to-understand legal information. She does this through her books, proactive legal workshops and 1-2-1 legal services.