The EU Threatens the Existence of Memes
The European Union today voted in favor of Article 13, legislation that risks, in the words of some, “destroying the internet as we know it.”
It’s understandable to be skeptical of such a claim – after all similar claims were made about the FCC repealing “net neutrality.” While that campaign was largely guided by ignorance and corporate hypocrisy, the concerns here seem warranted.
The issue involves online copyright, sharpening the (fallacious) intellectual property rights for content creators in today’s digital world. At risk here is the ability to share any sort of content that includes copyrighted material – including memes.
Article 13 is [has earned] the reputation of a "meme killer."
It would require web giants to automatically filter copyrighted material — songs, images, videos — uploaded on their platforms, unless it has been specifically licensed. Despite its divisiveness, the piece of legislation passed by 438 votes to 226 with 39 abstentions in the European Parliament.
The most furious lobbying efforts focused on this article, with musicians, artists and authors coming out strongly in favour of the rule, and technology companies — such as YouTube — warning against its dangers.
Concerns included the filters' blocking of non-copyrighted material by accident, pretextual copyright claims by "copyright trolls", and the crowding out of smaller websites which cannot afford expensive filter software to keep their platforms compliant.
To enforce these new rules, tech companies will be forced to look to “improve” their algorithms to better detect and screen shared content for any copyright materials. Just yesterday it was reported that Facebook has already been designing similar tools in their crackdown against “offensive memes.”
Of course the application here goes well beyond memes. Youtube has an entire cottage industry of videos that rely upon repurposing copyrighted material in unique ways – from parodies to fan analysis to sappy music videos. All of this could be put at risk through Article 13.
This could also have consequences well beyond Europe as well. Just as California’s state emission standards end up impacting car manufacturing nationwide, there is a risk that rules adopted to placate the bureaucrats in Brussels could carry over to global operations.
Even if tech companies decide to limit these restrictions to only EU users, this could simply be start of trend by state powers around the world. Considering how memes have been used around the world to undermine authoritarian regimes my spreading ideas, such a move wouldn’t be at all surprising.
The good news is that today’s vote doesn’t make Article 13 law. The legislative process will continue behind the scenes in Brussels until a final vote takes place January of next year.