For the last 48 hours, the internet has been up in arms about a proposed rule-change from the European Parliament which many claim will have a detrimental effect on online content creators. Marking the first update to EU copyright laws since 2001, the new directive will hold internet companies responsible for material posted online without copyright permission.


While member states are yet to approve the decision and a vote in favour of the legislation would be followed by a two-year implementation period, large swathes of social media users and leaders of tech firms have already expressed their anger over the potential consequences it could have for the future of the internet.


The two clauses causing the most controversy are known as Article 11 and Article 13. Article 11 states that search engines and news aggregate platforms should pay to use links from news websites. Article 13, meanwhile, determines how “online content sharing services” should deal with copyright-protected content such as films and TV programmes. The rule applies to services that primarily exist to give the public access to “protected works or other protected subject-matter uploaded by its users”.


The EU says the new directive is about making “copyright rules fit for the digital era”. However, clickbait headlines and angry Twitter users might have you believe that under such rules, sharing of memes and gifs would be banned, bringing about the “end of the internet as we know it today.”  For those frightened over the future of memes or gifs, you can relax: The European Parliament said that memes – short images and video clips that go viral – would be “specifically excluded” from the Directive.


Nevertheless, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has dubbed the rule change as a lost battle in the struggle for the future of the web, in which the “open internet is being quickly handed over to corporate giants at the expense of ordinary people”. Similarly, Google said such a move would “harm Europe’s creative and digital industries”, further arguing that artists are already paid fairly under the current system.


Meanwhile, supporters of the regulation argue that it is a necessary measure that will ensure people keep control over their own copyrighted content, preventing it from being pirated or shared illegally. For artists and musicians, the new directive will ensure fair compensation for the online sharing of their creations.


No matter where you sit with regard to the new copyright directive, misinformation regarding memes is only damaging to discourse – after all, the EU isn’t attempting to bulldoze over the last twenty years of digital culture and internet humour. The conversation should not centralise around the banning of memes but rather the intellectual property of content creators and their right to enforce it in the digital age. This sentiment is echoed by the Artist Rights Alliance — formerly known as the Content Creators Coalition, who endorsed the vote in favour of the directive:


“Article 13 represents an understanding of today’s internet grounded in reality: internet companies who otherwise claim to be innovators should not be able to hide behind phony claims of helplessness when it comes to protecting music and other creative works,” the group stated.


“These companies are pioneers — cataloguing the entire internet, perfecting facial recognition technologies, mapping nearly every road and alley, and tracking and indexing each person’s internet activity. But because they profit from unlicensed use of music, when it comes to protecting our art, identifying and removing unlicensed uses of our works, and proactively preventing such unlicensed uses, those companies’ can-do attitude mysteriously disappears.”


Information on Article 13 can be found on EUR-Lex. For legal advice regarding the protection of IP in the digital age, get in touch with our team today.

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