Is this the end of memes?

The EU meme Ban

Are we looking at a whole new internet, one without memes, satire, or even holiday pictures? If the EU gets its way, yes.

The end of memes explained infographic


(Please feel free to spread this around. Do us a favor and give us credit, though? Thanks!)

I write about tech a lot, all of it online. So I get that we’re all learning to live in a giant screaming pit where everything’s louder than everything else and every time anything happens it’s the end of the world.

The thing is, we’ve kind of built ourselves a world online, and legislation could actually destroy it.

Just look at countries like China, where a firewall blocks off the free internet and the government just made VPNs against the law. Wonder what their version of Reddit looks like.

Or Saudi Arabia where using a VPN is actually a crime.

(Yeah, there’s a theme emerging here; places where they want to spy on you and censor you are also places where they want to keep the tools to stay safe and free out of your hands.)

Online, people can do and say what they like, build imaginary worlds, create and share. But the raw material for all that creating and sharing comes overwhelmingly from other creations, with bigger budgets and — crucially — rights holders.

Some copyright holders take a relaxed view of the use of their content online. Memers gonna meme, after all, and any publicity is good publicity. In many offices now, new-media-savvy 20- and 30-somethings have managed to get the message across that letting your fans play with your trademarked imagery can actually be good for business.

But what most rights holders would really prefer is an internet that functions the way the outside world used to: as a marketplace where they make the rules and every time anybody touches anything of theirs, they get paid.

The EU just handed them the keys to that particular magic kingdom.

The EU Copyright Directive was supposed to be an update to existing EU-wide copyright law, taking into account the fact that it’s not 2001 anymore. Stakeholders and experts were consulted about what they thought should be in the new law, and two proposals opposed by experts were stripped out. But, as this EFF post lays out, those two proposals — article 11 and Article 13 — were reintroduced at the last minute, by parliamentary shenanigans which meant they were virtually certain to pass.

Someone really, really wanted to get those proposals through. Enough to game the system to do it. As our infographic shows, it’s not going to benefit you and me, and it’s not going to benefit online businesses. Despite the fact that Google stands to gain somewhat from the proposals it’s shown some spine and advocated strongly against them, even giving up valuable pre-video Youtube advertising space to the fight.

So what do Article 11 and Article 13 actually mean? Are we really talking about the end of memes?

Well, like we said earlier in our infographic, we don’t really know how it’s going to pan out yet. But a lot of people who know what they’re talking about think the law as written is going to be a disaster.

Article 11 is bad enough. It wouldn’t even let copyright holders give away their right to recompense! Even if someone wants to give you something for free, they’d have to charge you.

But Article 13 is the real nightmare, the one that shows how damaging the loss of anonymity on the web really could be. Concentrating web use into a small number of walled gardens operated by giant corporations whose entire business model rests on mass surveillance? I mean, where could that ever go wrong?

One way it’s gone awry is the exploding data security problem, in which the corporations that collect our data leak, lose and sell it. (So do the governments.) But Article 13 highlights another: by congregating within the property of a small number of corporations we have made ourselves very easy to police. That means bad legislation like this is far more damaging than it was ten years ago.

Right now, Article 13 is a vague and badly-written gift to every copyright troll and billion-dollar grifter with a lawyer. Enforced as written it would leave you liable to prosecution for uploading your holiday pictures to Facebook, which leaves us looking at two prospects: Either it will be enforced, which is insane, or it will be kind of, sort of, selectively enforced, which is if anything worse.

I don’t want to live in an EU where the law says everything that’s good about the internet is illegal, whatever Paul McCartney says.

And I don’t want to live in an EU where the law is so unclear and unenforceable that for practical purposes, it’s whatever the nearest police officer says. Where some content is taken down, some producers prosecuted under these laws and not others. With no recourse.

Neither should you.

Which is why I’m doing everything I can to oppose this attack on our internet.

And so should you.

Here’s how to do it:

1: Find your MEPs.

The last chance we have to stop this is the Trilogue process, a meeting between the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and members of the European Parliament. Meetings are scheduled until Christmas, so time is short.

You can put some pressure on your own MEP, but it’s also worth keeping up as much pressure as possible on the Austrian and German delegations who will have the most effect on the outcome.

(Courtesy of Julia Reda, here’s a spreadsheet of how MEPs (including yours) voted on this, every step of the way.)

You can call and email your MEP here, or tweet out to them here.

2: Make some noise

Reach out to local media — a letter to the local paper could make a difference. Make videos and memes (while you still can!) and share them. Try these communities to start:

  • r/netneutrality
  • r/europe
  • r/saveourmemes
  • r/FreeSpeech

Your own following and friends on social media can help too: let them know you care, and tell them why. Consider these hashtags:

  • #Article13
  • #CensorshipMachines
  • #UploadFilters

Keeping the cultural pressure up matters too.

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