You like memes right? Everyone likes memes. Well, except maybe CNN when their logo gets imposed over Vince McMahon and gets its butt kicked by Donald Trump which sparked the Great Meme War of 2017. Even if you hate Trump, you have to admit they were funny but I digress. Unfortunately the meme may have now met its match.

The Copyright Directive

The Copyright Directive was brought before the European Union Parliament for a vote on July 5 after passing through committee on June 20. It is intended to help the holders of copyrighted material when dealing with online platforms so that their work is used with permission and that they are compensated financially. It has been supported by numerous musicians like Paul McCartney and Placido Domingo. Online memes are at the heart of the matter since in nearly every case the person posting the meme or other parody content does not control the copyright of the image.

Or is it 1984

Not everyone is onboard with this. Many argue that it restricts free speech or that it could destroy the Internet as websites will now be required to filter images and anything that comes close to violating copyright law will be removed. Many free speech activists in Europe believe that this is simply the first step and that this will also include anything deemed hateful, extreme and almost any other adjective before descending into a 1984-esque dystopia. With many memes parodying political leaders some feel that this is simply a way to curb criticism and thus free speech. Opponents of the bill also refute the musicians claim believing that it would make covering a song (something nearly every new band including McCartney’s Beatles does or did when getting started) too expensive and would push many entertainers out of the business. This comes on the heels of GDPR’s introduction and everyone’s passions seem to be inflamed.

Noble intentions gone wrong?

The law was introduced in 2016 with the intention of making sure that photographers and journalists were paid for their work and it is not intended to harm the freedom of expression on the Internet so says its authors. Most of the intended regulation intends to do just that targeting instead pirated music and videos and most people do not have a problem but Article 13 has been singled out. This would require large websites like Facebook and 4chan to monitor all content and remove anything that potentially violates copyright law. These companies now become the copyright police and many people are not happy with that as they feel that it simply opens up the door for more government restriction and abuses and not less. It also makes the platform responsible for the content on it rather than the individual user. Opponents of Article 13 include high profile names like Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee.

This law would mean no more grumpy cat, no more distracted boyfriend, no more Boromir One Does Not Simply, no more angry babies. The regulation may not be intentionally targeting memes but they will be collateral damage and it could cost affected companies millions as more staff will be required to review content or develop software to screen them (larger companies already have tech like this).

More than just memes at stake

Other questions need to be answered like what would happen with false copyright claims or when a copyright holder is not able to upload an image before someone else does. It could lead to a sticky situation should someone load a newscast and claim the copyright before the actual news entity loads it. This will take time to sort out and is potentially rife for abuse and corruption. Then there comes the potential legal situation even if an image is removed since others could have already downloaded the image or video.

The fight coming could be the real Great Meme War for Europeans. It is more than likely that this will also affect us here in the US at some point. This will not end well for one side. Either the meme as we all know it will be destroyed and gone forever or the EU, regulating bodies and the companies they regulate will become so swamped and so overwhelmed that regulation will be scrapped. Protests occurred outside of the European Parliament in Brussels before the initial June 20 vote, which passed despite the counter arguments of many prominent European tech leaders. Fortunately the measure was voted down by the European Parliament 318-278 on July 5 with many members of Parliament saying that more debate was needed. Another vote is scheduled for September.

The Great Meme War could be just beginning…

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