The Final Version of Europe’s “Meme Ban” is Here and It’s Worse Than We Thought

A wide-ranging and draconian set of new rules in the European Union (EU) known as the Copyright Directive may end up destroying the internet as we know it. If Brussels has its way, everything from memes to alternative news and a range of internet past-times could be rendered a thing of the past.

The EU has already agreed on the final wording of the new copyright rules, which will see online platforms held liable for any sort of copyright violation, doing away with elementary notions of what could constitute “Fair Use” and transforming the way in which internet users share information online.

While monopolist internet companies like Google and Amazon surely wield far too much power, the Euro bureaucrats’ attempt to force the proposed rules onto platforms constitutes what internet experts call “an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet, from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.”

At the heart of the new directive, which is expected to be passed despite widespread public outcry, are two specific parts that have riled up critics and threaten to chill the sharing of music, memes and news articles.

Article 11 of the rule, dubbed the “link tax,” would effectively force news aggregators including Google News, Bing, Yahoo and others to get a license from news publishers to link articles while also compensating publishers.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF):

“Article 11, which allows news sites to decide who can link to their stories and charge for permission to do so, has also been worsened. The final text clarifies that any link that contains more than ‘single words or very short extracts’ from a news story must be licensed, with no exceptions for noncommercial users, nonprofit projects, or even personal websites with ads or other income sources, no matter how small.”

Article 13 has been described as the “meme ban” provision of the Copyright Directive, and would see major platforms screen all uploads to prevent any form of copyright infringement. According to the article, “online content sharing service providers and right holders shall cooperate in good faith in order to ensure that unauthorized protected works or other subject matter are not available on their services.” What this means, however, is that in order to protect their own assets, websites that are older than three years old that host user-generated content (like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, among others), regardless of size, would be forced to crack down on content lest they face legal liability for material seen as infringing on copyrights.

As a number of privacy watchdogs and civil liberties advocacy groups said in a letter to EU policy-makers, Article 13 would force “obligations on internet companies that would be impossible to respect without the imposition of excessive restrictions on citizens’ fundamental rights.”

Trade associations lobbying for strict new rules punishing piracy and governing e-commerce have hailed the Copyright Directive, with Digital Single Market vice president Andrus Ansip saying that “the freedoms and rights enjoyed by internet users today will be enhanced, our creators will be better remunerated for their work, and the internet economy will have clearer rules for operating and thriving.”

Yet the upload filter is also being decried by groups such as EFF as “an outright crisis for the future of the Internet as we know it.”

Advocates are urging people in Europe – and those beyond the continent – to visit the #SaveYourInternet campaign website and to contact representatives to halt what is being described as a potentially lethal threat to what remains of internet freedom.

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