The Ban on Memes

May 3, 2019

Recently, the European Union passed the Directive on Copyright, a new set of regulations that are designed to limit and restrict copyrighted content on digital platforms, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. The Directive, and its most controversial section, Article 13, requires online platforms to restrict and in some cases remove the copyrighted material. 

The Directive, and Article 13 specifically, were put in place to make technology giants such as Google liable for copyright infringements. With these corporations being responsible for copyright, the goal is to have more revenue directed to the actual creators. However, with all copyrighted material being removed, there are worries that this directive could result in memes, which often include copyrighted photos, effectively being banned from the internet. 

Article 13 has been the focus for the dissent against the Directive on Copyright, and the section which has most people worried. The law states “online content sharing service providers and right holders shall cooperate in good faith in order to ensure that unauthorized protected works or other subject matter are not available on their services.” 

This effectively means that platforms that allow user-generated content to be uploaded have to take down content that infringes on copyright automatically. While this seems like it should make sure revenue is going to the actual creators, the article is worded somewhat vaguely. The Directive also referred to “proportionate content recognition technologies” which make it sound as though the EU is expecting platforms to use automated filters which scan every piece of content that is being uploaded. 

One main issue with Article 13 and the reason why it has been called the “meme ban” is because of these filters. No one is actually sure whether memes, which are often based off of or use copyrighted images, videos, or music, will be removed by these filters. 

While “parodies” are allowed under the Directive, with automated filters, it will be nearly impossible for platforms to decide what is or is not a meme. The other issue is that videos, for example, YouTube videos, frequently use clips from videos or audio clips from songs. While these clips are only a few seconds long, using an automated filter instead of requiring the label to file a claim will most likely result in these videos being deleted. 

However, the core issue with Article 13 is not the automated filters, but instead how liability is placed on the platforms. Companies like YouTube and Facebook would be liable for all content under Article 13. In the past, these companies were not responsible unless a music label or creator claimed the video was an infringement. However, Article 13 faces platforms with almost unlimited liability. To avoid lawsuits, these platforms will be incentivized to take caution and filter anything that is even remotely questionable from a legal standpoint. 

Lawmakers have been very close-minded during the drafting of the Directive, especially with Article 13. The Parliament’s approach to this has been through the view of big media corporations. They have ignored the general public and how other independent creators will be affected by this. In addition, even the big media labels disagree over who owns the copyright. If these massive corporations cannot agree, it is entirely unreasonable for them to expect the platform that hosts the content to make a decision.

Article 13 and the rest of the Directive have drawn much attention, both negative and positive. On the side favoring the Directive are mainly companies or organizations representing individual content creators, such as singers and writers. 

The Society for Authors, as well as Warner Music Group and the notorious Universal Music Group, have all publicly stated their support for the Directive on Copyright. The other side of the debate includes the major Silicon Valley group, the CCIA, which includes companies such as Google, Facebook, eBay, Amazon, and Netflix. Wikipedia and its founder, Jimmy Wales, has also voiced their dissent, even though Article 13 would not affect them.

Recently, YouTube has become the face of the anti-Article 13 movements, and the company has pushed for opposition towards the Directive. YouTube released a video with the title #SaveYourInternet. The video describes how hundreds of thousands of independent creators on YouTube will be hurt by the Directive and specifically, Article 13. Because YouTube creators frequently use memes or short clips of copyrighted content either as examples or to demonstrate a point, they are now at risk of their content being taken down, effectively taking away their source of income. 

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has also voiced her support of the #SaveYourInternet movement. She has posted multiple blog posts describing the threats Article 13 poses to not only YouTube influencers, but European artists, creators, businesses and their employees. Even though the Directive is only for member states of the European Union, any viewer of YouTube, Facebook, Reddit or any other major platform will be affected by Article 13.  

Cade Stow, XIIIs, is firmly against Article 13. “YouTube is a public platform where you can upload what you want; creators do the work on it. YouTube just oversees the platform, and they should not be liable,” he said. 

“The internet is supposed to be a public space, and it’s not fair for users to not be able to express themselves,” he added. Even though Cade and other members of the C&C community do not live in the European Union, they are still affected if they watch European creators. “A lot of popular YouTubers are in the EU, and I still want to watch them and their content, not filtered content. It’s their job and so if they can’t upload they don’t get paid,” he said. 

 In the making of the Directive on Copyright, the European Union and its lawmakers have focused on pleasing large media companies, such as Universal or the Warner Music Group. However, by doing this, they have ignored that this will harm internet users. Companies will be forced to remove any questionable content because they are now entirely liable for copyright infringement. 

The internet has been called the greatest public space humankind has even invented. However, the European Union has decided to sacrifice this great invention for the sole purpose of appeasing massive media corporations. 

 

 

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