In United States copyright law, fair use allows creators to incorporate copyrighted materials into their own work—without obtaining the permission of the copyright owner—when certain conditions are met.
Fair use recognizes that while the primary purpose of copyright laws is to encourage artistic and cultural innovation, rigid application of copyrights would actually stifle that creativity. Society benefits when creators have the freedom to critique and comment on the works of their peers or to remix and reuse artistic material in new and inventive ways.
If you’re interested in learning more about fair use and copyright laws, check out the U.S. government's official word on the subject. Stanford University also offers a pretty comprehensive overview that’s worth a look.
In the European Union, there is no ‘fair use’ doctrine comparable to that of the United States. Instead, EU law provides an explicit list of exceptions from copyrights granted to the rights holders, each with a specific scope. Nevertheless, in the EU, the use of existing works for purposes of quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody, and pastiche is explicitly allowed. This means that memes and similar parody creations can be used freely.
- What is Caricature, Parody, and Pastiche?
- Caricature portrays its subject in a simplified or exaggerated manner, that may insult or compliment it, for a range of purposes (e.g., political or entertainment).
- Parody is an expression of humor or mockery that imitates and evokes an existing work, while being noticeably different from it.
- Pastiche is a collage-like integration of a pre-existing work(s) into a new work; or a work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period.
Read more here.
- What is Quotation, Criticism, and Review?
- Quotation is the use of a copyrighted work or an extract from a work for the purposes of illustrating an assertion, defending an opinion, or allowing an intellectual comparison between that work and the assertions of that user. The user of a protected work must have the intention of entering into ‘dialogue’ with that work. Quoted work must have previously been lawfully made available to the public. The use must be in accordance with fair practice, and limited to the extent required by the specific purpose. The source and the author's name must be both indicated, unless impossible.
- Criticism is a quotation of an original work for the purpose of criticizing it.
- Review is a quotation of an original work for the purpose of examining or appraising it.
You can read more about the “quotation”, “criticism” and “review” exceptions here.
You can learn more from the European Commission’s Questions and Answers - New Copyright Rules. And to learn more about EU Member States’ national implementations of the various exceptions and limitations to copyright and related rights, see here.
Additional articles in this section of the Help Center also provide information on ”fair use” which you may find helpful.