EU approves controversial EU copyright law that hands more power to news and record companies

End of internet memes? EU approves controversial copyright law that ‘could kill off the web’s user-generated content’ such as reaction GIFs, quotes from online articles and music remixes

  • The Copyright Directive intends to update copyright for the internet age 
  • It hands more power to companies to block their copyrighted content online
  • But this also includes user-generated content, such as online memes, that include copyrighted material 
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The European Parliament has approved a controversial copyright law that threatens to ‘destroy the internet as we know it’, according to digital rights groups. 

The rule intends to update copyright for the internet age, and hands more power to news and record companies against Internet giants like Google and Facebook.

But it also allows companies to make sweeping blocks of user-generated content, such as internet memes or reaction GIFs that use copyrighted material.

The tough approach could spell the end for internet memes, which typically lay text over photo or video from television programmes, films, music videos and more.

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EU lawmakers have approved the Copyright Directive, which says providers should ‘take measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded with rights-holders for the use of their works’. This could mean the end of popular internet memes

Following months of talks, two key changes to the EU’s the Copyright Directive were approved Wednesday by MEPs voting in Strasbourg, France.

Officials voted 438 in favour of the measures, 226 against, with 39 abstentions.

The vote introduced Articles 11 and 13 to the Directive, dubbed the ‘link tax’ and ‘upload filter’ by critics.

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Article 13 in the revised EU Copyright Directive could affect memes and music remixes shared online.

This portion of the legislation puts the onus of policing for copyright infringement on the websites themselves.

This forces web giants like YouTube and Facebook to scan uploaded content to stop the unlicensed sharing of copyrighted material.

Critics have warned that this rule threatens to kill off the internet meme – images or videos that spread ‘virally’ online, often accompanied by a witty snippet of text.

Speaking in June, Copyright 4 Creativity, a campaign against the proposed article, said: ‘Should Article 13 of the Copyright Directive be adopted, it will impose widespread censorship of all the content you share online.’  

EU lawmakers agreed on a common position on copyright reforms ahead of talks with the 28 EU countries on legislation to force Google, Facebook and other tech giants to share revenues more fairly with Europe’s creative industries. 

The next step is negotiations with the European Commission and the 28 EU countries to reconcile their different positions before updating the existing copyright laws.


The legislation could cause internet platforms to filter user-generated content, including text, audio, photos and video to protect copyrighted works. Pictured: a Meghan Markle meme

A majority of the lawmakers had in July rejected the tough approach proposed by a key committee tasked by the Parliament to look into the issue.

The Commission kicked off the debate on copyright reforms two years ago in an attempt to ensure that online platforms pay publishers, broadcasters and artists a fair share of revenue and bear liability for online infringement.

Lawmakers subsequently beefed up the EU executive’s proposal in favour of Europe’s creative industries, prompting a backlash from the tech industry.

The debate has centered around two points, one of which could force Google, Microsoft and others to pay publishers for displaying news snippets.

The other is mandatory upload filtering, which would require online platforms such as YouTube, GitHub, and Instagram to install filters to prevent users from uploading copyrighted materials or seek licences to display content. 

It could mean the end of memes, remixes, and other user-generated content that routinely brings joy to the internet.


The European Parliament voted on Article 13 Wednesday. Critics argue it would be an excessive restriction on free speech. Pictured: A Lebron James meme

The Copyright Directive first came into effective in the end of 2002 and was subjected to previously unprecedented lobbying.

However, it is not the only legislation that could potentially affect internet usage. 

In December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed Obama-era ‘net neutrality’ rules, junking the longtime principle that all web traffic must be treated equally.

The move represented a radical departure from more than a decade of federal oversight.


In December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed Obama-era ‘net neutrality’ rules, junking the longtime principle that all web traffic must be treated equally. Pictured: A popular Spongebob meme


Net neutrality ensures that all internet users have free and fair access to every corner of the internet without any interference from corporations providing said service

The big telecommunications companies had lobbied hard to overturn the rules, contending they are heavy-handed and discourage investment in broadband networks.

Net neutrality ensures that all internet users have free and fair access to every corner of the internet without any interference from corporations providing said service.

With these rules, people all across the country, no matter their provider, have the ability to access the same things online.

Under net neutrality regulations, corporations can’t control what you see, slow down sites with less funding, or block webpages and/or apps

However, when Donald Trump became President he appointed Ajit Pai to chairman of the FCC. He then led a call to get rid of net neutrality.

Net neutrality will be repealed this coming Monday unless Congress takes action. 

The US Senate voted to reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules, but a House vote is still necessary. 

Senate Democrats today made a last-ditch request for a House vote to reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s decision.

HAS THE EU KILLED MEMES? HOW DOES ARTICLE 13 AND ARTICLE 11 CHANGE COPYRIGHT LAW?

MEPs have approved a number of changes to the EU Copyright Directive — the first major overhaul to European copyright law since 2001.

Although most of the changes present a welcome update to ageing legislation, Article 11 and Article 13 in the document have provoked outrage in some corners of the internet.

A letter penned by 70 leading internet figures including Sir Tim Berners-Lee, said the risks outweigh the benefits when it comes to the new EU law.

‘We support the consideration of measures that would improve the ability for creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works online,’ the open letter reads. 

‘But we cannot support Article 13, which would mandate Internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship deep into their networks.’


Article 13 and Article 11 of the Copyright Directive have been approved by officials in Brussels in an attempt to change online copyright law 

What is in Article 13?

Article 13 in the revised EU Copyright Directive could affect memes and music remixes shared online.

This portion of the legislation puts the onus of policing for copyright infringement on the websites themselves.

Until now, online companies have not been subject to copyright penalties when a user on their platform uploaded something that infringes copyright. 

However, that will change with Article 13.

As a result, Facebook could be held responsible when one of its 2.19 billion monthly active users shares a copyrighted image without the correct permission from the rightsholders.

But while Facebook has the funds to build a system to automatically scan content before it is shared to check for infringement, many smaller sites do not.

Memes often use still images from popular television shows or films, which are protected by copyright and would be flagged by these systems.

Cory Doctorow, special Advisor for online watchdog Electronic Freedom Foundation, says Article 13 will trigger ‘problems so big that they threaten to wreck the Internet itself.’

It’s unclear exactly what precautions websites will have to provide to protect against copyright infringement from its users.

Article 13 is quite vague, suggesting that sites use ‘appropriate’ measures, and employ ‘effective content recognition technologies’ to check content.

According to critics, the most important problem with Article 13 is the fact that it makes no exceptions for fair use – which previously allowed people to remix and mash-up copyrighted songs, or use short video clips from movies in commentary or parody.

What is in Article 11?

Article 11 in the Copyright Directive has been nicknamed the ‘snippet tax’. 

It aims to limit the power that technology giants like Google and Facebook hold over publishers, whose work is protected under copyright law. 

Online platforms will have to pay for a license to link to news publishers when quoting portions of text from these outlets.

This will support publishers and drive some traffic away to the publishers.

But while Silicon Valley companies like Google and Facebook will undoubtedly be able to afford a licence, smaller firms may not.

The changes could outlaw small news aggregators, which pull-in articles from a variety of sources online.

Axel Voss, Rapporteur of the European Parliament for the Copyright Directive, who spearheaded the changes, defended Article 11, saying: ‘If the press is dependent on search engines, of powerful companies, then we simply don’t have an independent press any longer.’

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