Did Europe Really Ban Memes?
Article 13. The European Union’s ban on memes. Many tech-savy people have heard about it by now but, when asked, can not explain what it is or why it is important. So what is article 13 and how can a collection of countries ban something as vague as a meme? I decided to look deeper into it, and this is what I found.
What is Article 13?
Article 13 is one section of a larger document known as the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, or the EU Copyright Directive for short. The directive was passed through the European Parliament on September 12th, and will likely go into effect in early 2019. The directive contains 24 sections, or articles. Of these 24, two of them have been the subject of much debate: Article 11, dubbed the “hyperlink tax” and Article 13, known as the “upload filter”.
Simply put, Article 13 places stricter requirements on media websites to ensure that all user’s posts are free of any copyrighted materials. It places the websites directly responsible for finding copyrighted material and removing it. While this is not a massive problem for smaller sites, larger ones would be forced to either hire hundreds of content monitors to check for copyright infringement or create a program similar to Youtube’s infamous demonetization algorithm. This also forces users to ensure their work is copyright-free or risk having their posts or accounts removed.
How does Article 13 apply to memes?
All that most people know about Article 13 is how it would ban memes. However, this is not technically true. Article 13 makes no active attempts to ban memes, but many memes would be censored by it as an unintended side-effect. Specifically, any memes that feature scenes from a TV show or movie, someone else’s original artwork, music, or any other copyrighted material would be unavailable in European countries.
Understandably, this has many European content creators up in arms. These restrictions would be extremely difficult to work around when attempting to create a joke. Any new memes would have to consist of either entirely original content or none at all. This directly conflicts with the current state of internet memes, which is entirely dependent on putting interesting twists on existing content. Because of this, Article 13 has earned its reputation as a “meme killer”.
But I’m American, why should I care?
There are two large reasons why Article 13 can and will affect us outside of Europe. The first is that large media sites like YouTube, Instagram and Reddit may begin to censor content that infringes on Article 13 no matter what country it originates from. This would impose the EU regulations to countries outside Europe indirectly. Users from around the world would be forced to censor their content, no matter what their local censorship laws state.
The second reason Article 13 affects other parts of the world is because it is not an outrageous solution to a very real problem. Copyright infringement and piracy is the norm in many circles of the internet. Most memes are basically walking copyright infringements in and of themselves. Article 13 is just attempting to ensure that someone’s intellectual property cannot be stolen by another. This means that, if Article 13 works, it would not be farfetched to see similar laws be implemented around the world.