This week, the European Union made the first major update to European copyright law since 2001 in what is being viewed as a major step towards internet censorship. The controversial copyright directive, has been heavily criticised by experts who have said could it seriously threaten the digital world and how it operates.

Article 13 of the copyright directive, would place responsibility for enforcing copyright law on websites and platforms, rather than individuals.

Such an article means that any website or platform that allows users to post images, footage, sound or code would have to use content recognition technologies to filter out just about anything that infringes on a copyright, and either prevent the platform from uploading or push it to seek licenses.

The move has been branded “censorship machines” by critics because it means that memes, news, wikipedia, art, privacy, and the creative side of fandom, would now be illegal.

Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, a London-based organisation that supports freedom online, said: “I think without a doubt there will be a threat to the way people use memes…they are clearly reusing copyrighted material, mostly legitimately, but it’s very hard for a machine to know that.”

Whilst the legislation is primarily intended to prevent online piracy in music and video, it has been so poorly designed that now the European Union appears to be going to war, with memes. It means now those who want to create a meme have to take a photo themselves and make it clear in the copyright that they are comfortable with other using it.

The European bureaucracy clearly saw people enjoying memes and decided that such behaviour should be under their control.

In a sense of irony, it has caused a stir online with a upsurge of memes criticising the EU for making the internet a place of bureaucracy.


But Article 13 isn’t the only article facing criticism, Article 11, dubbed the Publishers’ Neighbouring Right, has been labelled deeply unpopular. This article forces Google, Microsoft and other platforms to pay publishers for showing news snippets, or linking to news content.

It has been dubbed a “link tax” by opponents, and a further threat to an open internet.

Whilst news publishers have welcomed this particular part of the legislation, Article 11 doesn’t define what constitutes a snippet or link. Details instead, will be left to the 28 individual countries in the EU to figure that out. That opens the door for political abuse of how news is spread in each country, and it will likely have the opposite of its intended effect.

The consequences of Article 11 and Article 13 remain a matter of speculation, but the nature of the legislation, both its design and its vagueness that makes it ripe for abuse, make it all but inevitable that they will leave the internet torn and tattered in its wake. It’s sad that the EU decided to declare war on things that provide their citizens with entertainment.