This month marked a historical moment for the internet. On March 26th the EU Parliament passed various copyright laws including the controversial Article 13 legislation surrounding online content.

The new legislation comes after years of debate and continues to prove controversial worldwide, with critics continuing to oppose two sections specifically: Article 11 and Article 13. However, despite various attempts by the movement’s largest critics (Google & Youtube) the directive passed and will now have to be implemented by each individual country within the union.

So, what is Article 13?

Article 13 is part of the Directive on Copyright. The article states that “online content sharing service providers and right holders shall cooperate in good faith in order to ensure that unauthorised protected works or other subject matter are not available on their services.”

Down to its core the article is simply saying that any websites that host large amounts of user-generated content (e.g. Twitter, Facebook or Youtube) are solely responsible for disposing of that content if it infringes on copyright.

While that might seem simple, no one is yet to agree on how these platforms are expected to not only remove the content but find it in the first place. Past versions of the legislation referred to ‘content recognition technologies’ (or content ID) which seems to rely on asking platforms to use automated filters to scan every piece of uploaded content and stop anything that might violate their terms from being uploaded.

Many of the large user-generated companies already hold content ID platforms. YouTube’s filter allows copyright owners the right to claim ownership of content already uploaded, then gives them the opportunity to either block the video or monetise it by running advertisements. This system already proves unpopular due to its inconsistency and vulnerability to abuse, something that would only be heightened if potentially infringing videos could not be uploaded at all.

The final point of Article 13 sets out which platforms exactly will need upload filters and which ones won’t. The only way a site that hosts user-generated content can avoid putting in place an upload filter is if it fulfils all three of the following:

  • It has been available for fewer than three years
  • It has an annual turnover below €10 million
  • It had fewer than give million unique monthly visitors

This means that a large number of sites will need to install upload filters – even those that are non-profit, or user monitored.

Yeah, yeah but what about my memes?

The reason that Article 13 has been dubbed a ‘meme ban’ is because no one is quite sure if the viral image posts, which are often based on copyrighted images, will fall into these laws. Amends to the article argue that memes are protected “for purposes of quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody and pastiche”. However, many argue that filters will not be able to distinguish between memes and other copyrighted materials so they may be caught in the crossfire anyway.

That’s all though?

Not quite. The directive needs to be interpreted by each member state individually when passing it into national law – for example, Article 12a could stop anyone who isn’t the official organizer of a sports match from posting any videos or photography of said match too. This would mean the end to viral sports GIFs and might even stop people posting photos onto social media when they attend a match themselves.

Pros and Cons

Over the past few years the two sides to the debate have been filtered into two categories. Many people in favour of the directive tend to be part of industrial bodies representing content producers. Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group have publicly declared their support for the directive. MEP supporters of Article 13 have claimed that the implementation of upload filters will not be a requirement, saying that platforms are simply required to license the copyright material they are wanting to use (a feat that opposing bodies point out isn’t all that easy when you are not a multinational corporation).

Opposing groups include CCIA (the Silicon Valley lobbying group including Google, Facebook, Ebay, Amazon and Netflix) and internet notables such as Tim Berners-Lee whom signed an open letter arguing their stance against.

Without a doubt, Youtube is the largest opposer of Article 13. The platform famous for content creators, let’s play gaming and product reviews fear that their creative output will be stunted through the guise of copyright claiming. A large-scale campaign #saveyourinternet found its way across various social media platforms after its start on Youtube. It isn’t only YouTube creators though, YouTube high level management have also been vocal in their opposition, CEO Susan Wojcicki published a blog post where she said there were “unintended consequences” of Article 13. “The parliament’s approach is unrealistic in many cases because copyright owners often disagree over who owns what rights,” she wrote. “If the owners cannot agree, it is impossible to expect the open platforms that host this content to make the correct rights decisions.”

When will these laws come into practice?

While Article 13 has passed European Parliament, provisions will not take place straight away. Each individual member state will enact the Copyright Directive individually. Each state will be able to interpret the law and how it will be implemented in its own way.  While many lawmakers wish to impose ‘upload filters’ and Article 13 to its extreme, various MEPs, such as Julia Reda of Germany, wish to protect the freedom of expression throughout online platforms stating “The greatest public space we’ve ever invented mustn’t become a casualty of attempts to use copyright law to solve problems not caused by it in the first place. Our freedom of expression online is too precious to be wasted as ammo in a corporate battle.”

The scope of Article 13 and its counterparts is still to be seen however one thing is for certain, the next few years will see a large change to how we use the internet in the future.

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