Everything You Need To Know About The New “Meme Ban” The EU Just Passed


It’s a “dark day for internet freedom.”

It’s official: the European Parliament has finally approved the controversial Copyright Directive, which is designed to overhaul online copyright law in the EU.

The law is divisive. Especially Article 13: opponents call it a “meme ban,” and say it’ll limit freedom of speech by forcing “upload filters” on any user-uploaded content and give big tech an even stronger grip online. Advocates, on the other hand, say that it will force big tech to pay their fair share. What’s certain: the internet in Europe will never be the same.

“Meme Ban”

One controversial part of the Directive, which many observers have dubbed a “meme ban,” would force major platforms like YouTube to filter every single upload to prevent copyright infringement.

Supporters of the Directive say that “meme ban” is inaccurate, since memes would fall under the label of “parodies” and thereby be protected, but opponents argue that automatic upload filters won’t know any better.

Dark Day

Another stipulation, which opponents have dubbed the “link tax,” would force news aggregators — including heavyweights like Google News — to remunerate publishers for linking to their articles.

Member of Parliament Julia Reda, a vocal opponent to the EU’s Copyright Directive has argued that small publishers with less brand recognition could lose out — and called it a “dark day for internet freedom.”

Why is it controversial?

How long have you got? Users say the new rules risk killing off vibrant internet culture, such as memes, which often repurpose unlicensed material. And the legal status of streamers, who post videos of themselves playing video games online, is in question.

Website owners are not required to install content monitoring software to detect copyright material, but practically it will be impossible to guarantee a site is not infringing the rules without this software.

“It’s very hard to make these tools identifying content, because they can’t identify context, and so they make decisions that are likely to be bad,” says Jim Killock at the Open Rights Group, a UK digital rights campaign group. Users would risk having their content removed by over-zealous bots.

While Article 13 also requires site owners to implement a complaints process to deal with disputed decisions, Killock says this is unlikely to fix the problem. “Our experience pretty much everywhere is people generally don’t complain. They worry about the effects on their reputation, worry about the legal ramifications, so these tools would have a chilling effect.” Rather than risk further sanctions, user may simply stop making content for online publication.

Although websites less than three years old, or with less than €10m annual turnover are exempt, they will still need to plan for these rules for when those caveats no longer apply.