Article February 11, 2019

The ‘meme ban’: Is this the end of the internet as we know it?

A swathe of millennials all over the world are spitting out their organic oat milk lattes over the EU’s ‘meme ban’ copyright laws coming into play in the next couple of months.

The European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market is designed to control how copyrighted material is shared on platforms. This has been perceived by campaigners as changing 'the free and open internet as we know it.’ The directive has two main provisions which are currently under scrutiny, Article 11 and Article 13, with the aim for tech giants such as Facebook, Google, YouTube and Instagram to do more to prevent the spreading of copyrighted material on their platforms.

What are the provisions and why is it called a ‘meme ban’? 

Article 13 seems to have drawn the greatest ire from the world and is more commonly known as the  ‘meme ban.’ Essentially it means that sites that host large amounts of user generated content may become liable for the copyrighted materials they are allowing users to share on their websites. These platforms will effectively need to scan every upload for copyrighted material, and will be responsible for stopping the upload if it infringes on copyright. ‘Meme ban’ has been coined because it is unclear how far these copyright checks will go, and questions over whether memes, which are usually based on copyrighted images, will be subject to these new laws is drawn into question. Many claim that memes are parodies and will be allowed, but others argue that automated filters will not be able to distinguish and therefore be blocked. Hence, people losing their quiet enjoyment (LOL) over a meme. 

Rather than protect original creativity by imposing greater restrictions on online platforms, the concern is the breadth of the law will effectively do the opposite and stifle it.


YouTube CEO, Susan Wojcicki, has been very vocal in her opposition, declaring the legislation could put the ‘entire creative economy at risk’ with concerns that the laws may require platforms to ‘filter content dramatically, or stop accepting uploads from individuals altogether.’ Many have seen this as a serious threat to the online creative world.

Article 11 is also something of a concern for online platforms to be aware of - this is essentially a ‘link tax.’ Any site or webpage using snippets of articles, such as aggregator sites like Google, must pay a license to the content publisher which would offer an additional income to European publishers.

How the legislation is to be interpreted by individual nations will be up to them and only time will tell, but it definitely creates a new minefield of problems for social media websites and sharing platforms.