Is this the end of memes?

By Emma Videan

On Wednesday 12th September, the EU’s Legislative Committee voted to adopt sweeping measures that will upend the Internet as it is today. This was the first major update to European copyright law since 2001 and while for the majority it has been accepted, article 11 and 13 have been described as ‘disastrous’ by some of the most important figures in the technological world, including Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee.

To give you a brief overview, article 11, known as the ‘link tax’, creates a new copyright rule for linking to news organisations and quoting text from stories. In theory, this has been designed to support public information providers by bringing users to their home pages. However article 11 is very vague and details are to be decided upon by each of the 28 EU countries, thus creating 28 different laws. A huge issue with this is that only large organisations will be able to afford the licensing and so this law will be hugely damaging to smaller organisations.

Article 13 is equally problematic because it says that the top 20% of platforms will need to use a very strict system that finds any infringing material. The system is a combination of an automatic system and a huge team of humans that review the material and costs millions. An indication of how unpopular this is seen within the field is the fact that last week 70 iconic figures in technology signed a letter opposing the article. The biggest issue here is the harm caused to freedom of speech and small businesses and that it gives further advantage to large companies that already monitor users heavily.

Both of these articles are vague in their wording and have been met with extreme criticism. In a social media world, these articles are damaging to even the most juvenile memes of the Internet, such as those that use screenshots from films. Regulations such as these are a major way in which the Internet is increasingly become privatized. Larger companies, such as Facebook and Google are dominating the once ‘open’ Internet because of their economic advantages.

Start up businesses are likely to find the Internet a more daunting place, with the risk of being inundated with strict guidelines that could result in fines or lawsuits if not followed. New legislations run serious risk of damaging the music industry, as musicians who create remixes and mashups using the rule of fair use will no longer be able to do so without licensing. Users of SoundCloud will inevitably suffer from these articles that stifle creativity and free speech. Even with recent GDPR regulations being implemented, it is becoming more difficult to use, create and grow platforms that are legal and stand a chance against the global brands that dominate the Internet.

More steps should be taken by those with legislative power that large companies don’t monopolize the Internet and instead keep it as it was always supposed to be – a place for open debate, opinion spreading and most importantly for all voices to be expressed equally. It seems as though there is not enough understanding in governing bodies about the importance and modern use of the Internet, which could very well be the reason why debates such as this are so heated. With an increasing number of legislations such as these surfacing, there will also be a need to educate young people about the laws of the World Wide Web as it becomes one of the most important tools we have.