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Are memes under legal threat?

August 10, 2018


The European Parliament recently voted against a new copyright directive containing two controversial provisions:

  • Article 11 would require online platforms such as Google and Facebook to pay a fee to publishers in order to link to their content, and as such has become known as a “link tax”.

  • Article 13 would impose obligations on online platforms to block content, including user-uploaded content, that infringes the rights of copyright holders.

While some, like Paul McCartney and the Society of Authors, Composers, and Publishers of Music, believe the new copyright directive is necessary to protect the rights of creators, others have expressed concern over the directive. Protests against Articles 11 and 13 focus on the dangers of censorship and the importance of free speech.

Opponents of Article 13 worry that memes, a popular form of spreading information and humour on the internet, will no longer be allowed because they are heavily based on copyrighted material. Rather than a copyright owner bringing a claim where their work has been uploaded without permission, the directive obliges the online platforms themselves to monitor their content and remove anything that offends Article 13. Though the directive would only apply to the European Union, there is a risk that online platforms would also block content uploaded by North American users to avoid violating Article 13 should the content reach European users. However, as we considered in yesterday's post, a recent Virginia federal court decision may signify changes in American copyright law that would allow for the uploading of memes as fair use.

As of now, those standing against the European directive (including Wikipedia, which shut down access to its Italian website in protest) have won the battle. However, the war is far from over. The European Parliament is expected to vote on the measure again this September.


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