It’s in all the headlines: the EU just “banned memes.”
Of course, the truth is a little more complicated than that, even if the European Union has been involved in some staggeringly strange decisions regarding the internet as of late. The internet isn’t going to go away because of EU’s Article 13, but the surface of the internet may very well change. Regardless, nothing will occur until at earliest 2022.
So, what did the EU really just do to the internet? Let’s take a look.
What is Article 13?
Article 13 is the latest in copyright initiatives meant to govern the internet. Previously, it’s generally been considered that the internet is a place for discourse and discussion, and consequently the laws of fair use apply. Fair use means that people can show each other copyrighted content for things like teaching, criticism, parody and so forth. No one is breaking the law by showing someone a page of a textbook. This is why Facebook isn’t being sued on a daily basis whenever a new meme goes viral.
However, copyright law is not very cut-and-dried, and that’s why many issues related to copyright law actually end up going to court. You can show someone a page of a textbook, but can you copy the entire thing for them? Can you copy the entire thing for a hundred students? Can you leave copies in a book store? When it comes to the internet, memes (often copyrighted, but altered images) are frequently used.
More frequently, though, copyrighted images may be shared on networks such as Reddit. What article 13 does is it makes platforms responsible for the content shared on them, while also making it necessary for these platforms to make sure that copyright information is provided for anything posted on them. This means message boards, social media sites, and so forth need to validate the copyright on an image before it’s posted.
Did Article 13 Kill Memes?
A core issue with Article 13 is that a great deal of internet content cannot have its copyright validated. Copyright isn’t always filed for an article: instead, it’s assumed that the originator has copyright from inception. Very few photographers are individually copyrighting all of their photographs, but they maintain copyright for all of those photographs. How can a casual photographer “prove” copyright of something they just took?
Likewise, with memes, it’s difficult for an individual to prove that they created something, in addition to proving that it was satirical in nature. Again, parody is difficult to prove.
In the past, this was dealt with through individual complaints as they arose. If someone with copyright complained about an item, that item would be taken down and then those copyright claims could be explored in court. Now, instead, copyright will need to be proved preemptively. Unfortunately, many platforms are not set up for this, and would be unable to technologically create a solution. Instead, they may need to ban EU users entirely.
What’s With all the Poor Decisions?
After Article 13, numerous MEPs came forward and said that they voted the wrong way entirely, changing their vote. This is a curious issue, but it’s not an anomaly. With Brexit on everyone’s minds, many have been wondering why votes appear to take a different direction than public interest. With multiple governments seemingly making inexplicable decisions, the public wants to know why.
It’s a combination of issues. Many politicians are voting on issues that they don’t entirely understand, such as technology. They’re often asked to review extremely long, in-depth legislature that may not be well understood. And often, tricks are used: such as changing the order of the vote.
In the case of the Article 13 vote, the MEPs stated they were confused by the voting process itself. While their votes are being individually recorded as differently (impacting their personal voting records), the vote itself is still going to stand. This indicates a dangerous issue: that politicians are voting on technology they don’t understand about technology that they don’t understand.
What is really going to happen regarding Article 13? As it doesn’t get implemented until 2022, not much is happening soon. Platforms are going to need to figure out how they’re going to deal with copyright issues, but there is still the chance that the legislation will get overturned before then. It’s likely that most of the big companies are going to put the full force of their energy into trying to appeal Article 13 rather than trying to adhere to it.