A new law being just passed in European Parliament and in the process of becoming finalized has received scant media attention, but could be nothing short of revolutionary in terms of its lasting impact on the internet, political speech and discourse, and the potential for censorship. So far the EU is moving the law forward, but it has sparked fierce push back, as it looks likely that soon entirely legal content will be caught in the law’s dragnet.
The law, in its full named called The European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, is intended to updated existing copyright laws for social media and the internet, but critics say it’s incredibly short sighted and creates more problems than it does solutions. At the heart of the law is Article 11, which as been dubbed the “link tax,” and Article 13, which is being called the “meme ban” due to the likely potential that internet memes could be banned across Europe.
Whereas so far the onus has been on artists and creators to flag copyright infringements, the new EU law requires platforms like YouTube, Google, Twitter, and Facebook to be responsible for copyright violations.
This means these large platforms which host immense amounts of constantly updated images, memes, and information could be forced to require users to pass all content through an “upload filter” first which would theoretically ensure copyrighted information doesn’t make it onto the platform.
This is where memes, which are most often created using existing official images of political figures, events, or cartoons, could be banned as they would likely be flagged by such upload filters. The intent of the law is to protect the copyrighted content of artists, photographers, companies, and individual content creators, but critics say it will change the internet and social media platforms as we known it.
According to Wired commenting on the so-called “meme ban,” or Article 13:
No one can quite agree how these platforms are expected to identify and remove this content. An earlier version of the Directive referred to “proportionate content recognition technologies” which sounds an awful lot like it’s asking platform owners to use automate filters to scan every piece of upload content and stop anything that might violate copyright from being uploaded…