Why memes are the latest casualty in EU’s war on Silicon Valley | Tech News
New rules passed by the European Union on Wednesday aim to force big platforms like Google and Facebook to share their profits with publishers, but critics are warning that the legislation could spell the end of memes, remixes and other user-generated content.
The Copyright Directive is the first update to the EU’s media sharing rules in 17 years, and the vast majority of changes are simple technical fixes. However, two amendments are attracting particular ire.
Article 11 proposes a “link tax” that would force anyone using even small snippets of published text to obtain a licence from the publisher first, while Article 13 would make platforms responsible for installing automated content filters to ensure that material uploaded by their users does not infringe copyright.
No more memes
If companies cannot afford either of these, they will likely have to cease hosting user content altogether. Memes, generally being unlicensed remixes of other people’s content, would be caught in the cross fire.
Media companies have seen their bottom lines eroded by the arrival of the internet and an accompanying shift in how people find and consume content. Now the EU is attempting to redress the balance.
“The real target is for Google, Twitter, and Facebook to share profits with media companies, and everything else has become the collateral damage,” says Cory Doctorow, special adviser to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that defends civil liberties online.
Yet instead of directly challenging this power, he says, the EU is accommodating it. “This legislations accepts tech giants as permanent overlords of the internet. We’re legislating for a constitutional monarchy.”
Google is king
This, he says, will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. “I don’t know how we beat Google, but I know it’s not by giving them a permanent advantage. Putting smaller companies out of business won’t help us beat Google.”
It’s not just memes that are at risk. Jim Killock, executive officer of the Open Rights Group, a UK digital rights campaign group says content filter erode the long-standing EU principle against “general monitoring” – where platforms are obliged to inspect what users post on their sites.
Demands for general monitoring are already forbidden by the EU’s Ecommerce act, because of the risk that autocratic governments would use such technology to suppress free speech.
The bill must now pass the EU plenary, a body of all 751 members of the European Parliament, before it becomes law.
Legal challenges are inevitable, says Doctorow, but the European Court of Justice is not a fast-moving institution. “It’s going to take years and years, and in the meantime Article 13 will be the law of the land. The idea we’re going to sit out the third decade of the millennium without a functional internet is nightmarish.”
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