The European Parliament has passed controversial internet legislation that will force online publishers to take severe steps to monitor potential copyright violations from anyone posting anything onto their web pages. Known as Article 13, the new regulation assumed an ominous reputation as it wound its way through the legislative process over the past year, with opponents warning it would mean the death of memes and other forms of parody, satire, and free speech.
A meme is simply a piece of visual content that can be easily shared which uses humor to bring home a message. Memes are habitually stolen from the original creators, which could be one form of potential copyright violation, and they frequently use images of celebrities, music snippets, or other popular culture markers that may also fall under strict interpretations of the new law.
The European Union’s legislative body also passed a sister regulation, Article 11, known as the “link tax.” This would charge news aggregators, such as Google News, a royalty fee for posting snippets of articles published by media outlets. Although Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook were vocal in their opposition to both regulations, they may actually benefit from them in the long run.
Billion-dollar tech goliaths will be able to afford the pricy filtering devices that will be needed to meet the new copyright restrictions while smaller would-be rivals will struggle mightily with the added costs to their operations. Critics also fear Big Tech will be more inclined to comply with Article 11 by paying fees to established media titans only while foregoing the content of smaller outlets, thus further quashing independent voices online.
The potential for creating a larger footprint for Big Tech and Big Media domination of cyberspace should give pause to Americans who believe the European regulations won’t affect them. “[S]omehow, your community message-board for dog-fanciers is going to have to block its users from plagiarizing 50-year-old newspaper articles, posts from other message-boards, photos downloaded from social media, etc.,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation warned before the legislation passed. Americans should be alarmed by the precedent being set here.
The EFF and other critics also note that any filtering device will inevitably end up deleting items that aren’t examples of copyright infringement, mainly because artificial intelligence doesn’t understand the nuance that European Union bureaucrats swear will still be exempt from their new law. “No one has trained an algorithm to recognize parody, and no one is likely to do so any time soon,” the EFF noted.
Coming to America?
Though all this will be happening in Europe, by tilting the universal internet among such a huge population in favor of big corporations, the cherished notion of the net as a “free-for-all” buffet of information will be greatly reduced. “I think the ultimate result will be that the internet will become more like cable television,” Julia Reda, a member of the European Parliament representing the small-coalition Pirate Party, told Agence-France Presse.
“Generally there is going to be less diversity of online platforms because the risk of running a platform legally will become much higher,” she added. Think making the neighborhood kids’ lemonade stand comply with all the strict regulations that large corporations in the food and restaurant industry are expected to meet.
The idea of internet gatekeepers is anathema to proponents of unrestricted free expression in cyberspace. Articles 11 and 13 give those who would monitor and control content a green light to establish and implement the machinery of censorship. To think that technology will only ever be used against Europeans is an awfully naïve position for American internet users to make.