What will Article 13 mean for internet culture?

Digital Spaces

Article 13 – the EU’s new ‘meme killer’ copyright law

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Connor James Ibbetson, Editor-at-large

It has been dubbed the ‘meme killer’ but what will Article 13 mean for internet culture?

The article in question forms part of the new European Union Copyright Directive, which mostly updates common copyright law.

Article 13 specifically aims to shift the responsibility of ensuring copyright is upheld from the individual user, to the platform or website they are using – and this could have major implications for digital culture.

The proposed article has drawn heavy criticism from the web, as expected. Liberties.eu, an “non-governmental organisation promoting the civil liberties of everyone in the European Union” has sent an open letter to the heads of the EU condemning Article 13.

The letter, which was signed by 57 institutions including the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Human Rights Monitoring Institute and Human Rights Watch, highlights potential flaws in the legislation.

“Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.”

They claim that Article 13 would be “impossible to respect without the imposition of excessive restrictions on citizens’ fundamental rights,” and “Article 13 appears to provoke such legal uncertainty that online services will have no other option than to monitor, filter and block EU citizens’ communications.”

Another letter addressed to Antoni Tajani, the President of the European Parliament, was signed up 70 individuals, including Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the internet. Stating “Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.”



Antonio Tajani is an Italian politician who has served as President of the European Parliament since January 2017. Image : Flickr

Antonio Tajani is an Italian politician who has served as President of the European Parliament since January 2017. Image : Flickr

The issue arising with internet culture, and memes, is that article 13 would mean popular sites such as Reddit and Facebook would need to use technology similar to that of YouTube’s content ID system to identify and block uploading of copyright material.

The fallout from this is that memes, which use common images overlaid with text to create long running jokes – would be likely be caught in this net.

This is because memes often use stock images, photographs or gifs taken from traditional media or screen shots of social media.

While this use may actually be legal under fair-use policies and parody law, machines looking for copyright content won’t be able to tell the difference.

The issue of article 13 has become a meme in itself, with many internet users crudely redrawing popular memes or distorting them using filters in a way that they could not be recognised.



On Thursday, the European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs voted in favor of the new legislation.

In a press statement, the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association said the committee’s ruling was “a victory for fairness.”

“The internet is only as useful as the content that populates it,” said Carlo Perrone, the group’s president.

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