Posting memes, remixes, and other similar content could soon be banned from the web in the European Union, according to critics who are speaking out against a recently proposed copyright law.
The law, known as the "Copyright Directive," will be voted on later this month by the European Parliament, and lawmakers suggest that this will protect content creators in the internet age. However, one of the primary reasons why the internet age has brought us so much innovation and novelty is because of the fact that such a large aggregate of people are able to share their ideas and build upon the ideas of others to create something uniquely special.
Article 13 of the proposed bill calls on platform providers such as Google, Facebook, and web hosts to "take measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded with rights-holders for the use of their works".
This type of policy would create a slippery slope that could very quickly lead to a situation where platforms are required to add a filter for the content that is shared through them, which will restrict the ability for creators to do something as simple as creating a meme or a remix of a song.
When the law was first suggested, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and 56 other civil society organizations sent an open letter to European lawmakers, warning of the possible implications of this law.
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The letter reads:
"Article 13 introduces new obligations on internet service providers that share and store user-generated content, such as video or photo-sharing platforms or even creative writing websites, including obligations to filter uploads to their services. Article 13 appears to provoke such legal uncertainty that online services will have no other option than to monitor, filter and block EU citizens’ communications if they are to have any chance of staying in business. ...
Article 13 would force these companies to actively monitor their users' content, which contradicts the "no general obligation to monitor" rules in the Electronic Commerce Directive. The requirement to install a system for filtering electronic communications has twice been rejected by the Court of Justice, in the cases Scarlet Extended (C 70/10) and Netlog/Sabam (C 360/10). Therefore, a legislative provision that requires internet companies to install a filtering system would almost certainly be rejected by the Court of Justice because it would contravene the requirement that a fair balance be struck between the right to intellectual property on the one hand, and the freedom to conduct business and the right to freedom of expression, such as to receive or impart information, on the other."
Last week, Jim Killock, executive director of the UK's Open Rights Group, told the BBC that "Article 13 will create a 'Robo-copyright' regime, where machines zap anything they identify as breaking copyright rules, despite legal bans on laws that require 'general monitoring' of users to protect their privacy. Unfortunately, while machines can spot duplicate uploads of Beyonce songs, they can't spot parodies, understand memes that use copyright images, or make any kind of cultural judgment about what creative people are doing. We see this all too often on YouTube already."
"Add to that, the EU wants to apply the Robocop approach to extremism, hate speech, and anything else they think can get away with, once they put it in place for copyright. This would be disastrous," Killock added.
Intellectual property is often sold as a legal measure to protect artists from scammers who may attempt to replicate their brand, but more often than not these types of legal avenues are taken advantage of by opportunists and exploited by publishers to the detriment of truly creative people. In the past, it was nearly impossible to implement such control over the internet, but now with complicated algorithms and the compliance of silicon valley tech companies, freedom on the internet is under constant threats.