Europe Wants to Ban You From Uploading Your Favorite Meme

Critics say new EU copyright rules would crack down on popular memes.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

The European Union is poised to adopt stricter new rules on internet copyright that detractors say would amount to a ban on memes.

The European Parliament’s legal affairs committee voted Wednesday to approve a wide-ranging package of copyright rules—including the contentious “Article 13,” a segment of the proposed law that critics say would qualify as a “meme ban.”

That section would make internet platforms like Facebook or Twitter responsible for preventing users from uploading copyrighted material to the site.

After being put under the onus of blocking copyrighted material from being published on their sites, social media platforms would likely respond by creating automated filters to prevent users from uploading copyrighted material. YouTube already uses an upload blocking system, which draws on a massive database of copyrighted footage.

Those filters could mark the death knell—at least in Europe—for social media use of popular memes like “Distracted Boyfriend” or the entire universe of SpongeBob memes. That’s because the filters created to prevent users from posting copyrighted content would be expected to catch the same copyrighted images from photographs or movies that are the basis for many popular memes.

In an effort to show how hard it would be to make and share memes without using copyrighted material, activists uploaded an image gallery to Imgur of common text-and-image memes—but with the pictures cut out.

While much of the opposition to the new copyright rules has focused on the “meme ban,” Article 13 would affect any form of copyrighted material for internet users in the European Union, from audio to skins for videogame characters. In a letter to the head of the European Parliament, dozens of prominent tech figures warned that the rule would make the internet “a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.”

“I think the ‘meme ban’ is a way of making [the issue] accessible to people,” said Cory Doctorow, an editor at Boing Boing and a special consultant to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It’s actually so much broader than that.”

The copyright law’s supporters have countered that fears about the response to Article 13 are overblown, with one member of the European Parliament who supports the bill telling The Next Web that the concerns about upload filters were “a total exaggeration.”

The copyright law is now headed for a vote in front of the full European Parliament, where it could face a vote as soon as the first week of July.

While the new copyright law would have the largest effect on European internet users, it could also prompt tech platforms wary of violating European copyright rules to crack down on uploads from U.S. users, as well.

American internet users already experienced the effect of new European internet rules this spring, when Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules went into effect—prompting a deluge of privacy policy emails to U.S. internet users from internet companies wary of accidentally violating European rules.