Copyright and fair use: What does it meme?

Copyright and fair use: What does it meme?

Originally I was going to use an original image to explain the…rigidity…of modern copyright law.

But then I realised the marvelous irony in using an image which may in fact breach copyright. The above screencap of the character Boromir from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is easily one of the most recognisable meme images across the web. There are countless memes which use this exact same image (and usually the top line of text) to express an idea. The image is viral.

Modern copyright means that any Lord of the Rings related content is under copyright until 2043. Meaning any use of such content (like the Boromir meme) can potentially be issued with infringing copyright.


Due to the viral nature of this image, trying to enforce copyright infringement on every unauthorised use would be a futile and costly exercise. Additionally, so long as the individual is not devaluing the original content, they can claim the defense of fair use.

Fair use can be used to justify the use of copyrighted material so long as it is being used for:

  • education
  • parody
  • news reporting
  • critical review

So meme junkies rejoice! Protected by the viral nature of memes and the fair use defense you will live to meme for another day!