Memes on Memes and the New Creativity

113 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2021 Last revised: 24 May 2022

See all articles by Amy Adler

Amy Adler

New York University School of Law

Jeanne C. Fromer

New York University School of Law

Date Written: August 26, 2021


Memes are the paradigm of a new, flourishing creativity. Not only are these captioned images one of the most pervasive and important forms of online creativity, but they also upend many of copyright law’s fundamental assumptions about creativity, commercialization, and distribution. Chief among these assumptions is that copying is harmful. Not only does this mismatch threaten meme culture and expose fundamental problems in copyright law and theory, but the mismatch is even more significant because memes are far from an exceptional case. Indeed, memes are a prototype of a new mode of creativity that is emerging in our contemporary digital era, as can be seen across a range of works. Therefore, the concern with memes signals a much broader problem in copyright law and theory. This is not to say that the traditional creativity that copyright has long sought to protect is dead. Far from it. Both paths of creativity, traditional and new, can be vibrant. Yet we must be sensitive to the misfit between the new creativity and existing copyright law if we want the new creativity to continue to thrive.

Keywords: intellectual property, copyright, memes, creativity, social media, TikTok

Suggested Citation

Adler, Amy M. and Fromer, Jeanne C., Memes on Memes and the New Creativity (August 26, 2021). New York University Law Review, Vol. 97, p. 453, 2022, Available at SSRN:

Amy M. Adler

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
Room 314
New York, NY 10012-1099
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212-998-6645 (Phone)
212-995-4341 (Fax)

Jeanne C. Fromer (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012
United States

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