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Article 13 copyright meme law passed by EU

The EU just voted in a controversial, internet-changing law

Article 13 has had people fearing for the future of memes, videos, and online content as we know it

The European Parliament has voted in the controversial copyright rules Article 13 and Article 11, signalling what critics say is the beginning of significant changes to internet freedom and expression.

Two years on from when it first came to fruition, politicians voted in the legislation by 348 votes to 274. There were 36 abstentions. A vote on debating an amendment to remove the most offensive Articles in question from wider policy on copyright was rejected by just five votes.

The legislation will mean that tech companies are responsible for combating any content on their platforms that infringe on creators’ copyright permissions with total legal liability. Supporters of the directive include musicians – from Debbie Harry to Wyclef Jean – who believe this will mean artists will be compensated more fairly for their work. German Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda described it as a “dark day for internet freedom” – those who oppose the directive highlight that it could be used to give tech firms more power and restrict content creation, specifically memes.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, tweeted that the internet user “lost a huge battle today” in European Parliament. “The free and open internet is being quickly handed over to corporate giants at the expense of ordinary people,” he wrote. “This is not about helping artists, it is about empowering monopolistic practices.”

Rapporteur Axel Voss, a politician representing the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, said the guidelines were “an important step towards correcting a situation which has allowed a few companies to earn huge sums of money without properly remunerating the thousands of creatives and journalists whose work they depend on”.

Article 13 has been the most contentious element. Basically, it would mean the onus was on internet companies to scan content for copyright violations, known colloquially as the ‘meme ban’. Filters would be forcibly applied on content prior to ordinary people uploading. Critics believed this would mean reaction videos or memes that use screenshots from TV shows could be affected. However, changes to the law made earlier this year flagged that memes would be protected under “purposes of quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody and pastiche”. Politicians said memes would be “specifically excluded” from the guidelines, but it’s not clear how this would be reflected in specific tech firms’ filters. It seems like the most intense, draconian filters will end up being applied so firms can avoid huge fines, as the directive remains too vague and loose.

A statement from YouTube said that the final legislation which passed was “an improvement” from when it was first announced, but that the platform is “concerned” that Article 13 “could have “unintended consequences that may harm Europe’s creative and digital economy”.

Article 11, also known as the ‘link tax’ means websites would have to gain a license to link or make use of news articles. Publishers, for example, could charge Google for showing snippets of articles on its search engine page. Supporters of this directive, like the European Alliance of News Agencies, argue that it would encourage higher quality news services and the opportunity for publishers to compete and display fairly on huge tech giants. There’s concern from opposers that the directive would actually do the exact opposite – for example, Google would just stop showing snippets of results, and meme-sharing will decrease with the fear of being hit by the laws.

Protests have been raging both on and offline over the controversial law.

Hope remains for those who oppose the directives in that each EU member country has two years to take the legislation, tweak and improve it before it is implemented in their own country. It isn’t clear what that means for the UK though, given that Brexit confusion rages on.

Read back on our previous explanation of the directives here.