Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to the Wessex Scene as a whole.
The death of Pepe the Frog might be coming! With the European Parliament approving the changes to the committee position on the European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD), the future of memes, gifs, and online journalism is in question.
In 2016, the proposal of a new EU Copyright reform was introduced by former European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Günther Oettinger, to establish updated modern copyright laws that are suitable for the digital age. While the first EUCD proposal was rejected in July, MEPs went back and made amendments where it was narrowly approved by the Legal Affairs Committee, but was opened to the EU Parliament for further discussion. On 12th September, these amendments were passed by the parliament with 438 in favour, 226 against and 39 abstentions.
The Copyright Directive contains two articles that could potentially harm small or independent publishers, bloggers and social media platforms in the EU, with the amendments making questionable or little changes compared to the original proposal.
Article 11 introduces what is being known as the “Link Tax”, where online companies would have to pay for a licence from the publisher when using snippets that direct their readers to the publishers news publications online. This could affect the hyperlinks produced on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter that shows the article picture, headline and brief excerpt to a story.
While Article 11 would force online publishers to pay for the privilege of sending more traffic to news sites, supporters say the proposal, if enacted, would help limit third party involvement in directing traffic to other news sites. It should be noted that snippets must only be used as a brief taster to encourage further reading and must not, under existing copyright law, include full text from the publication it’s linking.
We are all very familiar seeing hyperlinks on our Facebook and Twitter feed, but placing a price on having your publications reach a number of readers will almost certainly lead to misinformation. The absence of a snippet to a linked publication would lead to a decrease in professional, legitimate journalism. A worrying thought – especially at a time where fake news is peppered across the internet. The innovation of the media sector could also be impacted with small, independent publishers or online bloggers not able to afford the required licenses that may be necessary for linking stories.
Due to an outcry of criticism of Article 11, the EU Parliament approved an amendment stating:
2 a. The rights referred to in [Article 11 proposal] shall not extend to mere hyperlinks, which are accompanied by individual words.
This amendment would allow the sharing of hyperlinks that are accompanied by “individual words” to be shared. The meaning of “individual words” is questionable though. This vaguely worded amendment could still have an impact on the encouragement of fake news and for journalists and bloggers who wish to provide a longer snippet unless the EU expands on its meaning.
Article 13, what is being known as the “Upload Filter”, orders all online sites to “proactivity” stop any copyright infringements. A surveillance mechanism will be needed by sites, resulting in high costs for such technology and manpower to reach an adequate level. Similar to Article 11, this would heavily impact small companies that would have to invest in the required system, having the burden of paying for such mechanism.
While video sharing company YouTube already has a system in place to try and limit copyright infringement – especially when it comes to music – the requirement from the EU Copyright Directive would be stricter. How this new surveillance mechanism will distinguish between copyright material and legitimate material is questionable, with concerns that it could potentially impact internet parody videos, memes and gifs.
One could also ask why Article 13 is needed in the eyes of the European Union. A study by the European Commission in 2017 found that the issue of copyright infringement online wasn’t a necessary concern, stating:
In general, the results do not show robust statistical evidence of displacement of sales by online copyright infringements.
The recent amendments to Article 13 were limited, mainly with its focus on excepting “microenterprises and small sized enterprises”, stating:
“(37a) … The definition of online content sharing service providers under this Directive does not cover microenterprises and small sized enterprises … and service providers that act in a non-commercial purpose capacity such as online encyclopaedia,”
This would except small, micro companies, in addition with non-profit online encyclopaedia sites. While the EU have listened to the criticism, the wording, similar to article 11 amendment, is vaguely worded in parts. It doesn’t give a definition for ‘small’ or ‘micro’, and the substance of the directive hasn’t changed with parody videos, memes and gifs still under threat for copyright infringement.
Even with the amendments, the EUCD is a potential danger to the internet, leading towards censorship, lack of media innovation and an attack on freedom of expression. If the European Parliament doesn’t listen to these concerns, the future of the internet looks bleak. The final vote is expected to take place in early 2019.