woman scrolling through memes

The EU recently passed its Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. This Article 13 directive requires tech giants that host user content such as YouTube, Facebook or Twitter to take more legal responsibility for copyrighted content being shared illegally on their platforms. Article 13 will make sure these tech platforms have licenses for any copyrighted material they host and if they can’t get a license for that material, they have to make sure it doesn’t go online in the first place.

Here’s a scenario: A YouTube channel could upload content that has music from a publisher who you don’t have permission to use – that’s definitely illegal. But who’s fault is it, is it yours for uploading that video in the first place or is YouTube to blame for allowing you to upload that video to be found by anyone online? Article 13 wants to fix this problem.

Platforms could work with the original publishers of the copyrighted content and allow them to host that material on their platform. YouTube already does this and is why you get to enjoy music videos on the platform. If platforms don’t have the license, they’ll have to bar this content from being uploaded online. Lots of people and tech companies are against it saying it’s going to be difficult to take this into action and can only be done using upload filters.

Upload filters will check through content uploaded to these platforms to see if there’s copyrighted material or not, if there is, said content won’t go online. Here’s the problem – these filters might end up blocking content that is completely fine to share online.

When you get to read through the updated fine print, Article 13 allows for lots of exemptions where copyrighted content is really fine to share online such as educational content, purposes of quotation, criticism, reviews or caricature, pastiche or parody. Open-source platforms such as Github and Wikipedia are also exempted. One huge takeaway, memes are totally safe.

“We listened to the concerns raised and chose to doubly guarantee the freedom of expression. The ‘meme’, the ‘gif’, the ‘snippet’ are now protected more than ever before.”

~ Axel Voss, the directive’s sponsor, member of the European Parliament and the Christian Democratic Union of Germany.

It is still unclear how tech platforms will be able to implement that rule with a blanket filter. The problem that arises is how sure upload filters will be able to tell the difference and ignore the exemptions like memes. YouTube’s Content ID does this and is not always right. Remember when Tumblr couldn’t differentiate between nudity and porn when it implemented its porn ban and thus accidentally blocked images of topless women protesting?

Here’s another issue – The EU has been focusing on what the impact of article 13 on huge tech companies, they neglected the effect this will have on smaller platforms. Companies are exempt from article 13 if they tick all these checkmarks: they’ve been available to the public for less than three years, they have a turnover of fewer than 10 million euros annually and lastly if they have less than five million unique monthly visitors –  the rest of the platforms like Deviantart and Patreon will have to follow article 13.

In the updated text, these concerns were also taken care of on that Tuesday vote. Content could now be uploaded to non-commercial platforms online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia, open source platforms such as Github and cloud storage services. Startups will face light obligations compared to established companies making it possible for them to comply with the legislation.

This could a huge win for YouTube who’ve been crying out loud that article 13 will force them out of existence. Platforms will need to purchase content filters and Google(Facebook also has one) has made a copyright recognition system that’s already in use by movie studios, broadcasters and record labels making the tide turn in their favour for the search giant and the social media platform.

“It helps make the internet ready for the future, a space which benefits everyone, not only a powerful few.”

~ Axel Voss, European Parliament Rapporteur

It’s not all bleak as the before the text becomes law, it still has to be approved by the Council of the European Union who may not pass it if one country changes its mind. The vote is expected to happen on April 9 and hopefully, they’ll be less confusion.

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George Kamau
I brunch on consumer tech | first.last at techweez dot com