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The End of Memes? What the EU’s new copyright directive means for creators

With the outcome of Brexit still undecided and the European elections looming ahead, most of the media’s talks have been centred around the EU. For those growing sick of it, it unfortunately doesn’t end there. Just recently, the European Parliament voted in favour of Article 13 and 11; two articles which have caused much controversy for three years. With that being said, it’s important to understand the profound effects of these laws, whether the UK remains in the EU or not.

Why is it controversial?

The Articles have been fought over between EU Governments, creators and MEPs as it produces a whole new approach to content creation and publishing. Google made their argument against the law most evident, saying it believed it to have “a profound impact on the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people”, especially if YouTube were forced to remove videos.

However, after a long battle and a 5 million strong petition against the proposed laws, the final vote concluded a balanced approach. Such an approach means better protection for smaller artists without impacting large platforms.

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How are EU laws organised?

For copyright centred laws, the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market is what outlines the limits for content shared online. Any EU directives are pieces of legislation, which list the objectives each member of the EU must achieve. The Directive of Copyright includes Article 13 and 11, with 13 proving the most controversial as it requires members to filter and remove content that’s copyrighted. This is the reason why people are worried for memes.

Although there’s concern for the future of memes, the directive is designed to pull more revenue from large tech companies to small time creators. At the moment, YouTube isn’t solely responsible for copyright violations, though it must remove anything when instructed by the holders. This is the sort of issue the EU are trying to tackle.

The fate of memes

Before anyone gets the wrong idea about Article 13, it doesn’t directly outline ‘ban all memes’. It states that: “content sharing service providers and right holders shall cooperate in good faith in order to ensure that unauthorised protected works or other subject matter are not available on their services”. You can read about this in more detail here.

In summary, it means large content distributors such as Facebook and YouTube are responsible for taking down any content that infringes copyright. Seems pretty simple, right? Wrong. It is difficult to see how platforms are going to identify the content that needs removing in the first place.

One suggested method included in an earlier draft of the directive asked for platforms to implement automated filters. An automated filter would then scan every bit of content to detect any copyright infringement, which is where the issue arises for memes.

Article 13 states: for websites to distribute and host user-generated content without the need of a filter, they must fit in a certain criteria. The website criteria includes: it being around for less than 3 years, having less than 10 million annual turnover and having less than 5 million unique monthly visitors.

The whole ban scare comes down to people being unsure whether memes fall under these laws, as they’re created from copyrighted images. Although different areas within the legislation outline protection for memes, it still could mean the copyright filters may struggle to distinguish copyrighted content. Only time will tell if memes will fall foul of Article 13.

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What’s Article 11?

This area of the EU’s directive means news aggregator sites (sites that collect different news articles and puts them in one place for users) need to pay the publisher a sum of money for showcasing them. To be exact, the legislation says “[press publications] may obtain fair and proportionate remuneration for digital use of their press publications by information society service providers”.

How this law will work is also baffling people. At what sharing rate will an article have to be at before publishers need to pay? However, in the directive it says platforms needn’t pay if they’re sharing “hyperlinks which are accompanied by words”.

There’s good news for small time, individual bloggers and news producers, as they seem to be exempt from paying out. The legislation says “legitimate private and non-commercial use of press publications by individual users” aren’t included.

When does the directive take effect?

Even though the European Parliament voted to pass the directive last week, the laws haven’t taken effect just yet. It won’t be until each member (country) of the EU carry out the Copyright Directive, implementing it their way, that tech giants and creators will see change.

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