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Kenya’s Copyright Board weighs in on monetising memes

Kenya , 05 Aug 2022

The Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) has warned that the use of memes without the permission of the author and for commercial purposes is a copyright infringement.

The organisation issued the statement after a meme featuring artist Arap Marindich was released and gained popularity in the East African country.

Images from the video have been transformed into still memes and have featured on many high profile social media accounts.

The KECOBO stated: “A meme is an image, video, or text used in social media for humorous or political banter and illustrative of a line of thought on a topic under discussion. A Copyright holder has the exclusive rights to copy, reproduce, make adaptation, publish and broadcast their work for a fixed period established under the Copyright Act.”

The organisation explained that these memes can be exploited for the benefit of the author through advertising or Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs).

However, a meme generated without the authority of the copyright owner is an infringement, the KECOBO said, specifically of “the exclusive rights to reproduce, copy, adapt and publish since the original photograph or video undergoes some alteration and incorporation of a text.”

Meme use for commercial purposes has to have requisite permission failing which it will attracted “significant civil liability”.

A blog posted by UK-based Stephenson Law reads: “Generally, if you’re just sharing a meme for the fun on social media, this won’t be much of an issue. But if you start using your meme for commercial purposes – for example through your company’s marketing channels - it might start to attract the attention of the copyright owner of the original image or video. If you haven’t made sure you have the rights to use the original materials, you may find yourself the unhappy recipient of a cease-and-desist letter or a claim for damages,” it stated.

Response to the warning was met with mixed reaction on social media.

One example: @andrew_droo said: “They're not saying that people can't use memes. They're saying that you can't use memes to make money without the authorization of the content owner. E.g. Use a meme in an ad or when promoting material or products. Absolutely nothing wrong with this statement.”

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