Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Monday, October 7, 2019

Grammar, Memes, and the Law

I love a good meme.  Make it a good grammar, writing, or editing meme and I am in law professor meme heaven.

Not long ago one of my Facebook friends started sharing the funniest grammar memes (or maybe she had been sharing them all along, but Mark Zuckerberg finally thought I should start seeing them).  Regardless, I was hooked and followed the clicks through to the main Facebook page of Analytical Grammar.  The company also has a website.

What I have loved about the Analytical Grammar memes is that they explain often misused words.  For example, check out this meme (which I share with permission!):

No photo description available.

I shared this meme on my Facebook page and several of my friends found in informative.  I also like that if you click to Analytical Grammar's Facebook page, there is a short text description of the meme and the proper word usage.  

I could share a lot more of the Analytical Grammar memes--they are delightful--but I want to get to the rest of the story.  When I clicked over to the Analytical Grammar Facebook page, I was struck by the cover photo.  It contains a few images and the following text: "This page is run by an Air Force reservist and small business owner, and the business is being SUED for sharing a viral meme. For the full story, documentation, and other info, go to this link: www.gofundme.com/analyticalgrammar." Naturally, I went to the GoFundMe page for more information.

Apparently, Analytical Grammar shared a viral picture of a visual pun. The pun went viral from its site too.  That was in December 2017.  Almost two full years later Analytical Grammar was sued in federal court by the man who said he created the meme.

According to the complaint (in a nutshell), the plaintiff took the photograph and copyrighted it.  He claims that Analytical Grammar ran the photo without permission or a license.  He also seems to claim that Analytical Grammar removed "copyright management information."  He asks the court for actual damages, profits Analytical Grammar received from the infringement, attorneys fees, and punitive damages.  Wow!

Analytical Grammar's answer and counterclaims is pretty awesome.  In a delightful play on words (since the original photo was of several levels), it states;

Bradley’s lawsuit is wrong on so many levels. He levels claims against Analytical for sharing his joke. He does his level best to take Analytical down a level. But his claims are not on the level. Analytical raises these counterclaims to level the field.

It recounts the history of the photo, which wasn't even copyrighted until 2018, (even I was able to look that up on Copyright.gov) after the photo had risen to Internet fame, much to the plaintiff's delight.

Analytical Grammar raises several counterclaims too: (1) invalidity of copyright, (2) declaratory judgment of non-infringement of copyright, and (3) declaratory judgment of non-removal of copyright management information.

I was struck by this case. I often share memes on Facebook.  I see others share memes on Facebook.  I "like" shared memes on Facebook.  Not once did I ever think about copyright when doing any of those things.  I imagine that I am not alone in that regard.  I will certainly be watching this case as it moves through the federal district court in North Carolina.  Good luck Analytical Grammar!

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/appellate_advocacy/2019/10/grammar-memes-and-the-law.html

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Comments

After reading your post I went through the underlying materials.

Just donated. Thanks for raising the issue.

Posted by: Lawrence Koplow | Oct 11, 2019 10:55:52 AM

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