Digital rights groups are warning that a new law from the European Union could effectively make memes and other similar content illegal. The proposed EU Copyright Directive is not yet law, but the European Parliament are due to vote on the legislation on 20th June 2018.
The European Parliament will vote on this new legislation on 20th June 2018
Under Article 13 of the proposed law, websites hosting user-generated content should "take measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded with rights-holders for the use of their works". This means that if someone uploads an image, then it would be up to the site hosting that image to verify whether it has been properly used. Essentially they will have to monitor, filter, and even block content.
So what is a meme? The word 'meme' was coined by Richard Dawkins to describe the way in which information spreads, but the word is more closely associated with internet memes nowadays. They can take many forms, but they are most commonly images or animated gifs which have been changed or adapted, often in a funny way. Many of them feature copyrighted content.
A visualisation of how information spreads online, known as internet routing paths (each point is an IP address)
The proposed EU legislation is designed to protect the intellectual property rights of those who upload content to the internet, although critics are saying the the legislation is too broad and too vague.
Currently in the UK the legislation provides for 'fair dealing' (known as 'fair use' in other countries) of copyrighted content, which allows people to reproduce copyrighted content as long as it is done for a limited purpose. For example, fair dealing would cover quoting a book in a literary review, or works of parody, as long as the use of the material is reasonable.
In a recent interview with Sky News, a spokesperson from the European Commission said the following:
Here is the full text of Article 13: