In September of last year, the European Parliament approved of new legislation that would completely change the way in which we approach copyright online. It was a day that large tech companies and content creators alike had been waiting for. After all, the potential impact on their industry is huge.
With 438 votes in favour and 226 against, the European Copyright Directive came into law – with the immediate effect being an increased interest around Article 13 – an online content creators worst enemy. It threatened to limit freedom of expression and content sharing online – you know, that thing that makes the internet what it is. Article 13 (and to a certain extent Article 11) have been dubbed by the people – the ‘Meme Ban’ (or ‘Link Tax’). It’s a piece of legislation that addresses a controversial question – who’s responsible for the safeguarding of copyright when sharing content within a digital environment? In the past, that responsibility rested with creators. This new directive would shift that responsibility to the platform provider – it would be up to them to guarantee the legitimacy of all content being shared across their platform.
Instead of taking down offending content after it has been posted, platform providers would be expected to work proactively and presumably, existing content would have to be reassessed. Critics of Article 13 have pointed out that this new legislation could affect educational use, media commentary, criticism and the ‘remixing’ of existing content. Covers, satirical sketches, memes – it was all at risk.
Time to panic?
People began to panic. There’s been talk of the end of social media as we know it, the closure of platforms like Vimeo and Wikipedia, and even total continental cultural isolation.
The debate was further fuelled when the world’s largest video sharing platform, YouTube, launched their #SaveYourInternet campaign. YouTube asked YouTubers and mainstream celebrities to help them raise awareness around Article 13. YouTube argued that this legislation would only benefit large companies, while having a negative impact on:
- Users: They’ll have access to less content and their power to protect the content they enjoy will be significantly decreased.
- Content creators: Article 13 could have a potentially career-ending impact on content creators. At the very least, many content creators will see a serious dent in their main source of income.
- Competition: Only well established companies with a wealth of resources at their disposal will be able to guarantee compliance with Article 13.
Time to chill
Since its introduction back in September, a number of amendments have been made to this new European Directive and these amendments have, to a certain extent, resolved many of our worst fears and doubts.
- Amendment No. 20: the conditional protection of the creation and sharing of memes, parodies, covers, mashups, etc.
- Amendment No. 11: the conditional protection of content for the purpose of teaching or research.
- Amendment No. 134: this amendment differentiates between protected platforms like Wikipedia and other, illegal, online content exchange service providers.
- Amendments 156-161: ensures that platforms like YouTube have agile complaints systems in place that allow users to act in the event of a wrongful withdrawal of their content.
Is it okay to come out now?
The final vote will take place this Spring. If this legislation is adopted in its entirety, legislative responsibility will pass to the Member States, who will decide on how this legislation will be adapted in their country. We won’t really feel the true effect of Article 13 until it becomes a reality – will it be an apocalyptic career-ender, or simply the first step towards regulating a space that has been, until now, almost entirely free of constraints?
Take a deep breath, digital creativity has no expiration date.