The European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs just voted “yes” on what many are calling a highly controversial aspect of the EU’s Copyright Reform. There are two very controversial articles 11 and 13, which would establish a link tax, censorship machines and ultimately ban memes. Can you imagine? I would literally not know what to do with myself if I couldn’t look at memes. Why are they wanting to ban them in the first place? These two articles were heavily contested by internet activists, lobbyists and even members of the European Parliament. But all of that lobbying was for nothing as the two articles passed with a majority. How, and why is a complete mystery, but that’s just my opinion!
The argument is that these articles threaten the openness of the internet and make it less free. Let’s talk about these articles in detail for a minute. Article 11 (link tax) would force anyone using snippets of journalistic online content to get a license from the publisher first. This would ultimately outlaw the current business models of most news apps. This could also threaten the hyperlink and give powers to the publishers. While this might sound like a good thing, it’s coming at the cost of the public good. Article 13 (censorship machines) will make platforms responsible for monitoring user behavior to stop copyright infringements but basically means only huge platforms will have the resources to be able to let users comment or even share content. The concern here is that this could lead to broad censorship, which ultimately is a way of threatening free speech.
Is this a done deal? The short answer is no. The committee’s vote doesn’t automatically make these law. All it does is communicates the European Parliament’s stance on this particular issue. But they are highly influential, so, this does bear a lot of weight. If you live in the EU and you want to voice your concerns, you can use the European Parliament’s tool (Plenary) to bring matters out of committee and put them up for a vote by members of Parliament. That means it would be 751 Members of Parliament voting on this item, instead of just 25. In order to do this, however, there needs to be enough support in Parliament for this to happen.
What does this mean, exactly? Well, if you’ve used the internet before, then Article 13 is pretty clear. Think – YouTube Content ID, but now apply it to the entire Internet. Axel Voss, a member of the European Parliament has argued that the proposed language doesn’t actually mention a filter, but it does raise the question about “effective technologies” and what they are and how it relates to copyright infringement. Here is a good example – you’re at someone’s birthday party and you’ve started an Instagram Live video. The minute you start singing “Happy Birthday”, your video can come down. Why? Because it’s copyright and you’re not paying to use that song. Boom. Mic drop.
Does this mean that my favorite Trump memes won’t be available for me? Maybe. I don’t live in the EU, so not likely, but the fact that it could someday be my reality kind of scares me. I honestly don’t know how I would cheer myself up from a bad week if I couldn’t look at a Trump meme and laugh as hard as Obama does (in that photo with Hilary). While I’m completely on board with making sure that people aren’t stealing content, I’m not sure how this will actually help in the long run.