Copyright law is confusing, and not just because the copyright act is 327 pages long. If we consider the rule regarding adapting original artwork, we start to see the cracks in copyright legislation appear. Under copyright law, adaptation infringement falls under stringent restrictions, but since pop artists, like Roy Lichtenstein, destroyed originality, isn’t everything merely an adaptation? The copyright service gives some hyperrealistically impossible advice on their site:  

“The only safe option is to create something that is not copied or adapted from the work of others, or seek the permission of the rights owner (you should expect to pay a fee and/or royalties for this).” 

Anyone else having an existential crisis after reading this? Yikes. We’re seriously considering hanging up our weekend job as Lord Buckethead’s director of memes. If this were that case, Paul’s Boutique wouldn’t exist (don’t worry, we’ll be avoiding the music sampling debate). Today we’re here to talk about the EU parliament’s recent rejection of copyright law, which may spark the next significant reform that protects original work in the digital age.  

EU Copyright Reform  

A proposed reform to EU copyright law was put before the EU parliament with the backing of some high-profile musicians, labels and publishers. It’s been an arduous process for the backers of the bill, with the Guardian reporting that the proposition had been through the EU’s parliamentary system for two years. 

Article 13 

The reforms pitted artists and original content creators against internet giants like Google, Facebook and YouTube, with the creatives arguing that the tech monsters were making serious advertising cash off the back of the copyright infringement that was ubiquitous on their platforms. Article 13 was one of the ‘hot topics’; it involved the “use of protected content” and argued that tech giants are responsible (and, therefore, liable) for the content their users upload. For example, if a casual user were to upload a home video which used a song by soul legend, and ‘worldwide ambassador of love’, George McCrae, the platform (let’s say Facebook) would need to obtain a copyright agreement with George’s label and pay him royalties for the use of the song. Alternatively, Facebook could take it down altogether (which is currently the case, although its copyright strikes are automated and far from perfect). If Facebook didn’t act, it could face significant fines.  

As with many automated systems, there’s often a way to cheat. YouTube may have invested a reported $60 million in their copyright bots, yet problems still regularly occur. And employing humans to do the job would take an enormous workforce. Then there’s the issue of ‘fair use’ which covers a whole scope of reasons as to why someone can legally upload someone else’s creative work.  

The proposal set forth by the creatives asked such websites to check everything uploaded by users – for YouTube that’s around 400 hours of video a minute, and for Facebook that’s music, images and video (much of which isn’t digitally tagged with copyright info, and thus impossible to prove where the original came from).  

If the law had been passed, the most significant impact would undoubtedly have been felt by the internet’s meme culture. Bullet dodged, internet! 

Back to the confusion… This quote from BBC News shows the issues with Article 13 don’t stop with logistics:   

“But the way EU directives work means that every single country would have implemented the rules in national law the way it saw fit – and it wasn’t clear how each country would define what was acceptable and what was not. Many critics felt that internet services which operate across borders would be likely to play it safe.” 

The question that follows is how would such a law be policed? Would a sizeable government complaints department need to be in place for appealing decisions? And would each country need to dedicate a new official body to reviewing such content posted online, or would responsibility be placed on tech companies to police themselves (which they kind of already do)?  

Article 11 

Another noteworthy element of the bill was a proposed ‘link tax’ in which internet giants would have to pay some kind of remuneration to the news sources that are published on their platforms. Confusingly, news outlets employ SEO specialists to ensure their pages rank high on Google, which sounds a little like biting the hand that feeds. The intent of Article 11 was to ensure newspapers and media outlets are protected from their content being shared by third parties, like Google. Likewise, other newspapers that link to other news sources (as we have done above) would also fall under Article 11. Facebook is essentially one big link platform where news is shared freely among users. Tackling this would mean completely overhauling many practices media outlets currently employ and changing the makeup of the Facebook feed; Google’s news results could also be scrapped (unless paid for).     

The good news for internet users is that the bill was rejected in the EU parliament – your memes are safe for now. However, the debate around protecting content producers looks set to continue. All we can be sure of is that change is coming to how we publish, view and share content on the internet.  

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