The European Union approved new copyright laws for web companies that could bring sweeping changes to how the entire world uses the internet and even take away your memes, The Verge reported Wednesday.
The EU’s new copyright legislation has been in the works since 2016 and still face one more round of voting in January 2019 before taking effect, but Wednesday’s vote means the debate is all but over.
The main source of controversy is that the bill requires companies like Google and Facebook to both pay a “link tax” to media companies when they share one of their pages, and implement content filters to prevent users from posting copyrighted material, which could include memes.
The main issue arises from liability. Requiring tech companies to filter for copyrighted content means those companies — not their users — are held liable for potential infringement. Traditionally, if someone uploaded a copyrighted video to YouTube, that user would be held personally responsible. If that responsibility shifts, users face the question of how stringently tech companies will define copyrighted content. (EU Parliament Takes Unprecedented Step To Punish Hungary For Failing To Uphold European ‘Values’)
Every day, millions of internet users post memes in the form of screenshots, clips, and GIFs taken from copyrighted media sources like TV shows. These instances typically fall under fair use and aren’t an issue, but if tech companies are going to be the ones facing consequences when their users cross the line, critics fear companies will over-filter to minimize the chance of a lawsuit.
The internet is about to be irrevocably damaged because some European bureaucrats whom no one ever voted for decided to make memes illegal and reshape the entire copyright system. Streams, transformative media, memes, you name it—fair use is dead.
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) September 12, 2018
The new copyright directives were put forward but struck down in July 2017 before passing 438 to 226 Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, all the concerns by academics, experts and internet users that led to the text being rejected last July still stand.” Member of European Parliament Julia Reda told Gizmodo. “Today’s decision is a severe blow to the free and open internet. By endorsing new legal and technical limits on what we can post and share online, the European Parliament is putting corporate profits over freedom of speech and abandoning long-standing principles that made the internet what it is today.”
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