Article 13 Explained

Gunnar Strom, Contributor

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For the past two years, a battle has been going on in the European Union about the internet and the restrictions and laws that apply to it. At the center of all discussion right now is the infamous Article 13, something that may have gone over some Americans’ heads if they don’t follow the news. Even then, Article 13 is at best confusing to those who try to understand it, many people only saying that it will “make memes illegal.” The actual answer follows pretty closely to the meme observation. The purpose of it, in short, is as copyright law. It is meant to protect the creators of content from either plagiarism or illegal use of their property. The problem is the way that the law is being punished when it is broken.

Article 13 is not, in fact, the law itself, but the part that worries many people about the future of the internet as it is known now. Article 13 will shift the blame of copyright infringement off of the actual one to blame to the companies that are hosting whatever media it is, such as Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. This means that these companies that currently aren’t being fined, sued, or punished for the things that their users post will begin to have consequences for things they did not do. Making matters worse, Article 13 is very vaguely written, meaning that the wording of the law is based a lot on the interpretation of the reader. This is going to cause many of these companies to have to “over-police” their sites to try and eliminate anything that could be targeted for copyright infringement.

Once again, this doesn’t sound so bad, since most people don’t try and break copyright law on a daily basis. The problem with this is that there are so many things uploaded to the internet all the time that it’s virtually impossible to police all of it. On just Instagram alone, over 900 photos and videos are uploaded every second, every single day. This means that these media companies are resorting to using bots, machines and computer programs that search all of these posts for copyright infringement. Seems smart, right? Well, these bots aren’t human, meaning they can’t distinguish between things like parodies and jokes (things that are perfectly legal under copyright law) and actual illegal activity.

Coming off of this fact is the big internet joke lately: that memes are now illegal in the European Union. Technically, most memes are almost illegal on their own, as they use things like songs, videos, and pictures from private sources that have not given explicit permission for their creations to be used in this way. However, as their being used as a joke or a parody most of the time, they should be fine under copyright law. Once again, however, these bots don’t know that, and although the European Union has stated that memes are still legal and allowed under the new law and Article 13, many are still being taken down by these copyright-control bots.

The law will go into effect in about two years. While the effects may not be as dramatic as many make them out to be, this is still a big threat to the internet as it is now and future laws on copyright infringement. CNN reported that “over 5 million people signed a petition against the law and thousands protested in the streets.” One of the members of the E.U. from Germany, Julia Reda, said that it was a “dark day for internet freedom,” and it was indeed just that.


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