EU passes 'meme ban' copyright rules that could change the way the internet works

Tech companies have vociferously argued against the regulations, which YouTube claimed could see people banned from posting on its site

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 26 March 2019 12:37 GMT
EU passes 'meme ban' copyright rules that could change the way the internet works

The European Union has passed controversial copyright rules that campaigners claim could change the way the internet works.

The suite of reforms include rules that could force internet companies to ban memes and to stop them showing links in the way they do today.

Supporters claim the rules are required to ensure that music companies and news outlets are properly paid for the content that technology companies distribute. But opponents, who assembled in force, allied with those tech firms to argue that it could change the way the internet works and destroy some of its fundamental principles.

The vote – which many had suggested in advance could have been close – passed the rules with 348 votes in favour and 274 against. There were 36 abstentions.

EU member states will have two years to implement the reforms, although it is not clear what it would mean for the UK in the face of Brexit uncertainty.

The most controversial part of the rules had been known as Article 13, and force internet companies to scan content that is uploaded to them in case it might be in violation of copyright. That part has been referred to as a "meme ban", because companies could ban internet jokes that rely on screengrabs from TV shows, for instance.

Tech companies have vociferously argued against those rules. YouTube said, for instance, that it could be forced to stop millions of people from uploading videos at all.

The new regulations don't actually force tech companies to introduce such filters or to ban Europeans from uploading or engaging with content. But critics say that they are so loosely written that companies will be forced to be very strict if they wish to avoid fines.

The other controversial part of the rules is known as article 11, or the "link tax". That allows news publishers to charge companies like Google for showing snippets of articles in their search results.

Julia Reda, the German Pirate Party MEP who has helped lead the fight against the new regulation, said its passing marked "a dark day for internet freedom".

"A huge thank you to all the MEPs who supported the Copyright Directive today and the fantastic work of all those who have campaigned so hard on this," representation body UK Music tweeted.

Supporters in the creative, music and journalism industries have long argued that the Copyright Directive will enable content-makers to be fairly paid for their work, while opponents, including the tech giants themselves, fear the changes will have an impact on freedom of speech and expression online.

Two parts, Article 11 and Article 13, have been the most contentious since talks started, with the likes of YouTube warning that viewers across the EU could be cut off from videos.

Musicians Sir Paul McCartney and Debbie Harry were among the most vocal supporters of the changes, alongside a number of groups including the European Alliance of News Agencies, which argued that it provides an opportunity to further develop quality news services and enables it to compete more fairly with tech giants.

Additional reporting by agencies

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