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New EU law proposal: could this be the end of the internet as we know it?

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As Brexit discussions continue to dominate our trending topics and social feeds, so to do opinions around a new EU law currently being proposed that could have a significant impact on those working within the digital creative industries, prompting the hashtag #SaveYourInternet.

What is it?

In September this year, 751 members of the European Parliament voted to pass the newest Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market; a new law intended to better protect an individual’s content, ensuring rightsholders are paid fairly and pass copyright responsibility to the big platforms that host and monitor this material. It has been introduced to place responsibility on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Google to try and stop the spread of illegally copyrighted material.

Within this directive, there are two articles, Article 11 dubbed the ‘link tax’ and Article 13 nicknamed the ‘meme tax’, which many creators feel will have a huge impact on them directly.

The 'link tax'

Article 11 would demand a fee from the networks and big news aggregators, such as Google News, in order to share a link to a news article. If press publications must be paid for use of their articles, how much can be shared before this payment must be confirmed? And though the Directive states this will not affect your average social media user, there is still a blurred line when it comes to those with a larger social following. Where is the line? And how will this be determined?

The meme ban

Article 13 refers to the limiting, or even prohibition, of reproduced images or content without legal consent; the very type of content that is at the core of so many viral videos that end up on our feeds.

Proponents of the legislation argue that memes are protected as parodies and so aren’t required to be removed under this directive, but others argue that filters won’t be able to distinguish between memes and other copyrighted material, resulting in them being caught in the crossfire anyway. YouTube itself has stated that “YouTube would be forced to block millions of videos (existing and new ones) in the European Union. It could drastically limit the content that one can upload to the platform in Europe.”

Not only this but internet culture itself is being threatened, with reaction gifs, fan fiction, Let’s Play gaming videos, parodies, song covers all unable to be shared, as part of this Article.

What’s next?

YouTube has been the most vocal on the unintended consequences of Article 13, with CEO Susan Wojcicki publishing a blog post to their Creator Blog and encouraging their community to use the hashtag #SaveYourInternet.and running paid ads.

It is pushing to find a better balance with lawmakers that will protect creators, artists and entrepreneurs against copyright violation (through identifying the content they own and with the help of the existing Content ID system), while still enabling them to be creative.

The new directive will only apply to EU member countries and will not come into force until 2019 and so, depending on timing, it may not affect UK creators and the content they make, however, it would certainly affect who is able to watch them, especially if a large portion of their audiences is EU-based.

The hope is that there is still time to rethink a better-defined directive together; one that supports IP holders and creators.

Amy Reed, senior social executive, Think Jam