March 27, 2019
First the GDPR, now this! The EU has passed the Copyright Directive, a contentious piece of legislation that updates and overhauls online copyright laws in Europe, and it could have a lot of negative repercussions for the digital world. It could even affect the way copyrighted content is repurposed for creating memes.
It's no secret the internet is a bit of a mess right now. From weekly security breaches to unsettling data practices, lawmakers and everyday users from around the world have called for some kind of legislation to right the online wrongs. Unfortunately, US lawmakers have stalled in their efforts to enact meaningful change on nearly every attempt.
Fortunately, the EU has been a bit more effective, proposing and passing a number of changes to the way the internet works in comparatively record time. However, the Copyright Directive in question might not have the desired affect, and could impact a lot more corners of the internet than first intended.
What Is the Copyright Directive and What Does It Mean?
The Copyright Directive is a law that effectively updates and improves a wide range of noncontroversial copyright laws. In basic terms, it makes it harder for internet users to steal copyrighted materials through the internet. The directive is made up a lot of articles, the most controversial of which are Article 11, dubbed the link tax, and Article 13, dubbed the upload filter.
The link tax (Article 11) allows publishers to charge tech companies such as Google for infringing on copyright laws when using snippets of their content. The upload filter (Article 13) makes tech companies like YouTube responsible for stopping users from uploading copyrighted content.
In so many words, the Copyright Directive makes tech companies with prominent platforms responsible for ensuring that content posted on their sites complies with reasonable copyright standards.
Who Will Benefit and Who Is Against It?
The internet is understandably a complicated place, particularly when it comes to copyright law. The Copyright Directive is designed to benefit these copyright holders, giving them more power over their content. Musician agents, in particular, have spoken up about the potential for this to put money back into their clients' hands.
“It's about making sure that ordinary people can upload videos and music to platforms like YouTube without being held liable for copyright – that responsibility will henceforth be transferred to the platforms,” said Robert Ashcroft, chief executive of PRS for Music to the BBC.
Unfortunately, that's about the only group of people on board with the new changes. Tech companies, in particular, have insisted that this movement is akin to abolishing net neutrality, in that in robs the online community of the inherent freedom of the internet.
And Google is one of those pushing back on the broad, vague piece of legislature, implying the change will “lead to legal uncertainty and will hurt Europe's creative and digital economies.”
Is the Copyright Directive a “Meme Ban”?
All right, we know you're here to find out what this means for memes. There's no simple answer, since the Copyright Directive is a bit broad and decidedly vague. That means it's hard to say exactly what is going to happen to everyone's favorite means of communicating online.
Because of the uproar caused by a potential meme ban when the Copyright Directive was in its infancy, the EU tweaked and altered the original legislature, making sure that memes are “explicitly exempt” from these laws as long as they are “for purposes of quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody, and pastiche.”
However, with the Article 13 (the upload filter) being an integral aspect of the Copyright Directive, it puts tech companies in a bit of a bind. Facebook and Instagram can't dedicate actual human resources to rooting out instances of copyright infringement, which means they'll need to employ some kind of algorithmic filter to wade through the content. Yet plenty of memes will be virtual indistinguishable from copyrighted material, save a few words at the top, bottom, or both, making it quite difficult for an algorithm to accurately decide whether to keep one up or take it down.
So, how will tech companies walk this tight rope between freedom of expression and copyright infringement? Only time will tell, but the hope is that sanity will reign.
What About Outside the EU?
It's hard to say exactly how the Copyright Directive will alter online community outside of the EU, as we don't know how tech companies are going to interpret the the law and, more importantly, how they'll act to be in compliance with it.
In all likelihood, based on how they responded to the GDPR, they'll completely change their platforms, rather than make exclusive changes to their European facing users. Still, depending on how strictly these laws are enforced, you're going to want to keep a close eye on your favorite memes.
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