HARTE: Proposed EU meme ban restricts speech

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HARTE: Proposed EU meme ban restricts speech

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If you’re thinking about studying abroad in Europe, you may want to print out some of your favorite memes and pack them in your luggage before you go.

The European Union is overhauling its copyright laws to put new regulations on shared content on the internet. Critics believe the new legislation represents a “war on memes,” as memes often contain copyrighted material from TV shows, music and movies. The copyright overhaul is an example of legislation that drastically limits free speech on the internet in favor of protecting the profits of big media corporations.

Marquette students are not immune to memes. A meme page named @CollegeStudent with over 2 million followers on Twitter is an example of the prevalence of meme culture among students. Memes can be used as way to relieve stress in a fast, humorous way.

One section of the EU’s copyright overhaul named Article 13 calls for platforms like Twitter, Reddit and Facebook to take “appropriate and proportionate” measures to ensure users are not sharing content that infringes on a content owner’s copyright. The content platforms would be forced to install a filter that detects and flags materials uploaded by users that may contain copyrighted materials.

Content platforms would likely be strict in taking down flagged copyright materials, as they want to avoid penalties or fines for not complying with the EU law. This means that the hilarious Spongebob meme you created could be taken down within seconds of uploading, never reaching its yearning audience.

Many notable technology experts wrote a letter to the president of the EU parliament voicing opposition to Article 13’s content filters in June. The authors included Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, original internet architect Vint Cerf and the inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee. The letter stated that “Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.”

The content filters are mainly intended to stop the spread of pirated content, a major concern of media corporations. The EU performed a study in 2013 on how piracy affects music, books, movies and games. The results found that in most cases, piracy has little impact on legitimate sales. Article 13’s content filters are far too drastic when considering this minimal impact.

YouTube already has its own content filter named Content ID, which flags videos with copyrighted material. Content ID is known for being flawed, as seen in a case where the filter flagged a video of a cat purring for copyright infringement. The filter falsely detected the purring as being part of a song. It’s likely that other media platforms would have similar implementation problems when setting up their own copyright filters.

Despite the system’s flaws, Content ID cost YouTube over $60 million to develop according to The Center for Internet and Society. Article 13 would kill the chance for new video hosting startups to compete with YouTube, as they wouldn’t have the funds for content filtering on the same level.

The European Parliament approved the copyright reforms with 438 votes in favor and 226 opposed earlier this month. The reforms must go through negotiations between Parliament politicians and the leaders of member states before going to vote again in January 2019. However, the landslide support indicates that the legislation would likely pass a final vote.

European Union citizens should put pressure on their elected officials to protect free speech on the internet by striking down Article 13. If they’re unsuccessful, the fate of Europe’s memes is at stake.

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