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You are here: Home Focus Dawn Ellmore discusses whether new EU copyright proposals could ban memes and change the Internet as we know it

Dawn Ellmore discusses whether new EU copyright proposals could ban memes and change the Internet as we know it

A new piece of legislation from the European Union (EU) has been proposed, which digital rights campaigners claim will effectively destroy the Internet as we know it today.

Dawn Ellmore

The EU Copyright Directive has been formulated to protect the Intellectual Property (IP) rights of the people who upload original material onto the Internet. However, how this is actually meant to work in practice is being debated.

Digital rights campaigners warning

Campaigners concerned about digital rights warn that the law will mean that "all content uploaded to the Internet [must] be monitored and potentially deleted if a likeness to existing copyright is protected".

They point to a specific provision of the legislation, Article 13. This has extremely stringent copyright protections within it, which would affect the creation and sharing of memes and parody content. Campaigners say it would "destroy the Internet as we know it", and that it would empower "big companies to control what we see and do online."

Why memes are important

Whether we like it or not, memes and parody content are a massive part of the information uploaded every day by millions of people around the world. While memes use other people's original content in their development, they are also considered original and creative works.

Memes are created at huge rates, using massive volumes of original content and are often shared with no approval either sought from or granted by the copyright holder.

A useful example of a meme that includes an image can be seen in the 'distracted boyfriend' meme that has been replicated, altered, manipulated and shared extensively over the last few months. The photographer who took the original image, Antonio Guillem, gave no specific approval for the picture to be used to spawn everything from political parody to social commentary.

Letter to the European Commission

The campaign by digital rights campaigners is in the form of an open letter to the European Commission. Written and sent by academics from IP research centres across Europe, the letter alleges that the copyright directive will be intrinsically damaging to creative freedom.

The European Commission categorically rejects this. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker introduced the new legislative drive two years ago, saying that he wanted "journalists, publishers and authors to be paid fairly for their work".

The intended protections apply to original work "whether it is made in studios or living rooms, whether it is disseminated offline or online, whether it is published via a copying machine or commercially hyperlinked on the web."

EU response to campaigners

As a direct response to the campaign, a spokesperson from the European Commission said: "The idea behind our copyright proposals is that people should be able to make a living from their creative ideas. The proposals to modernise EU copyright provisions will not harm freedom of expression on the Internet."

The Commission says that the proposals are designed with a thorough understanding of technological developments and how the Internet is used. The new rules will tell content originators when their works are being used online, so that they can stop them being used on major platforms if they wish. They will also ensure that the original creator receives fair payment for their work.

How this will work in practice is difficult to envisage right now, given the vast scope of content on the Internet. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

About Dawn Ellmore Employment

Dawn Ellmore Employment was incorporated in 1995 and is a market leader in intellectual property and legal recruitment.

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