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Whenever you browse Facebook or Twitter, the newsfeeds contain endless memes and shared news articles. It’s a popular way for users to find out what’s happening in the world and articles are now shared here, there and everywhere. Whether it’s “fake news” or not. However, this could soon be changing with the proposed European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market legislation.

What’s all the fuss about?

The European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market is a proposal to stop copyrighted material being used online. This will revolutionise the current online copyright laws. The idea is that the Copyright Directive will place more responsibility on sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to reduce copyrighted material being illegally shared.

Currently it’s the responsibility of the copyright holder (the people or company who created the audio/video/written content) to enforce protection. Whereas the Copyright Directive will require the major platforms to take responsibility instead. It seems simple enough, right? Well, perhaps.

There are two articles in the Copyright Directive that have particularly drawn a lot of attention. These are Article 13 which has been dubbed the “meme ban” and Article 11, known as the “link tax”. So, what is it about these two articles that have caused such controversy?

Is it goodbye to memes? – Article 13: The “Meme Ban”

This article caught people’s attention due to a number of YouTube videos about it. This naturally caused some confusion around the subject. Article 13 requires any websites which host a large amount of user-generated content to be held responsible for taking down anything that infringes on copyright. Sounds simple enough.

But people cannot agree on how social media platforms will identify and remove the copyrighted content. An early revision of the Directive referred to “proportionate content recognition technologies”. This suggests that platforms could use automative filters to scan uploaded content to prevent copyright issues. But this depends on whether it’s actually possible for these filters to recognise copyrighted content.

Why is it being dubbed the “meme ban”? Memes are created by using content that is copyrighted, whether it be a photo of a celebrity or a film clip. There is the argument that memes are created as parodies so should be protected and exempt. However, if these filters come into play, they most likely won’t be able to differentiate between memes and other copyrighted content. Memes or re-edited/re-imagined videos on social media platforms that are inspired by the latest trends will be at risk.

No more sharing links? – Article 11: The “Link Tax”

Possibly saying goodbye to our favourite memes isn’t the only thing we may need to worry about. Article 11, known as the “link tax”, has been proposed to enforce news aggregator sites to pay in order to feature articles on their sites. Paying publishers to use snippets of their articles seems reasonable. But how much of that article has to be shared for the aggregator sites to pay?

According to the Directive, platforms won’t have to pay if they are sharing “mere hyperlinks which are accompanied by individual words”. Considering most shared links have more than a couple of words, it seems likely that platforms and news aggregator sites will have to pay.

There is an exception to this rule. If an individual shares a link on their social media platform, they won’t have to pay. What about social media influencers? Would they be exempt from “link tax” when they share articles even though they have large followings and mainly post adverts? It seems that both articles create more questions than answers.

Is there anything else?

There is another article in the Copyright Directive that could affect people which is Article 12a. It could potentially stop anyone who attends a sports match from posting pictures or videos of the game online. Even if they are your own photos and videos. The only exception will be photos that are from the official organiser.

There are some big names on both sides of the argument. In June 2018, 84 European music and media organisations publicly declared their support for the Copyright Directive. Organisations such as Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group were among the names, including Sir Paul McCartney.

It’s understandable that these organisations and figures would be in favour of the Copyright Directive as it helps to tackle content copyright issues. Of course, on the other side of the argument you have the social media giants like Facebook and YouTube and big internet names like Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales against it. Even the inventor of the internet himself, Tim Burners-Lee is against the Copyright Directive.

It’s a waiting game

We won’t know until the final votes take place in January 2019 if the European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market will pass. Even if it does, it will take about two years for the states of the EU to pass laws to be in line with the new regulations. It will be interesting to see how the Copyright Directive will become a reality if it does pass, and how it will be implemented. But for now, memes and articles live to entertain another day!



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