What will happen to our memes?
In Europe, new rules concerning copyright are being created that could change the internet fundamentally. The consequences that the upload filters included in the EU copyright Directive proposal will have for our creativity online raise concerns. Will everything we want to post to the internet have to pass through “censorship machines”? If the proposed Directive is adopted and implemented, what will happen to your memes, for example?
The proposal that will shortly be voted on by the European Parliament contain new rules regarding copyright enforcement. Websites would have to check every upload that is made by their users for possible breaches of copyright, and must block this content when in doubt. Even though memes are often extracted from a movie, well-known photo or video clip, advocates of the legislation repeat time and again that this doesn’t mean memes will disappear − they reason that exceptions will be made for that. In practice, however, such an exception does not seem workable and impairs the speed and thus the essence of memes. It will be impossible for an automated filter to capture the memes’ context.
Step 1: You upload a meme
Imagine that you’re watching a series and you see an image that you would like to share with your friends − it could be something funny or recognisable to a large group of people. Or that you use an existing meme to illustrate a post on social media. Maybe you adjust the meme with the names of your friends or the topic that concerns you at that moment. Then you upload it on Youtube, Twitter or another online platform.
Step 2: Your upload is being filtered
If the new Directive – as currently proposed – is implemented, the platform will be obliged to avoid any copyrighted material from appearing online. In order to abide the legislation, they will install automated filters that compare all material imported into the platform with all the copyrighted material. In case there is a match, the upload will subsequently be blocked. This will also be the case with the meme you intended to share online, because it originates from the television series, video clip or movie. You get the message: “Sorry, we are not allowed to publish this.”
Step 3: It’s your turn
What!? What about the exception that was supposed to be there for memes? Of course the exception is still there, but in practice it’s impossible to train filters to know the context of every image. How does a filter know what is a meme and what isn’t? How do these filters keep learning about new memes that appear every day? There are already many examples of filters that fail. Hence, you’ll need to get to work. Just like you can appeal against the online platforms’ decision when it has wrongfully blocked a picture for depicting “nudity” or “violence”, you will be able to appeal when your meme couldn’t pass the filter. That probably means that you’ll need to fill in a form in which you explain that it’s just a meme and explain why you think it should be allowed to be uploaded.
Step 4: Patience, please
After the form is filled in and you click “send”, all you can do is wait. Just like already is the case with filters of Youtube and Facebook: the incorrectly filtered posts need to be checked by real human beings, people that can assess the context and hopefully come to the conclusion that your image really is a meme. But that process can take a while… It’s a pity, because your meme was responding perfectly to current events. Swiftness, creativity and familiarity are three key elements of a meme. With upload filters, to keep the familiarity, you lose the swiftness.
Step 5: Your meme will still be posted online − or not?
At a certain moment in time, you receive a message. Either your upload has been finally accepted, or there still might be enough reasons to refuse it from being uploaded. And then what? Will you try again at another platform? That might take some days as well. The fun and power of memes is often the speed in which someone responds to a proposal of a politician, or an answer in a game show. Therefore you shouldn’t let Article 13 destroy your creativity!
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Bits of Freedom
What will happen to our memes? (11.03.2019) https://www.bitsoffreedom.nl/2019/03/11/what-will-happen-to-our-memes/
What will happen to our memes? (only in Dutch, 11.03.2019) https://www.bitsoffreedom.nl/2019/03/04/wat-gebeurt-er-straks-met-onze-memes/
Save Your Internet
by Esther Crabbendam, EDRi member Bits of Freedom, the Netherlands;
translation by Winnie van Nunen)