The EU’s online copyright laws won’t come after memes, but danger still lurks

News today that the EU’s online copyright laws will exempt memes and gifs have done little to stop fears that they’ll radically change the way we see the internet.

Catch The Feed 8:30pm Thursdays and 5pm Sunday on SBS VICELAND. Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

The internet breathed a collective sigh of relief this morning when it was revealed that the European Union’s controversial new online copyright laws will exempt memes and gifs.

But the danger is far from over.

Article 13 is one part of a whole bunch of new online copyright laws currently passing through European government.

It would make online platforms like YouTube and Facebook legally and financially liable for any copyrighted content (music, video, images etc.) posted to their sites.

In an ideal world this would mean more money for artists and creators but critics say that the end result would look more like blanket censorship.

World wide web founder Tim Berners Lee called it “an imminent threat to the future of the internet” but the laws have the backing of artists like Paul McCartney and Debbie Harry.

So, what implications - if any - would Article 13 have for Australia?

End of the internet as we know it

Author and Electronic Frontier Foundation special advisor Cory Doctorow has been following Article 13 closely since its proposal and is a vocal critic of the effects it might have on the world.

This is the beginning of the Chinafication of the western internet.

Doctorow’s concerns range from there being less creative content, big tech monopolisation and restrictions on global communication.

He says the changes to what the internet looks like shouldn’t be put in the hands of a few, no matter how lawful their intentions.

“You could be an absolute angel but I still don’t want you to be the only person who decided what the world can see and do.”

Australia’s next

Australia is no stranger to extreme online law, QUT Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Matthew Rimmer told The Feed.

These include the 2015 site blocking laws and the 2018 search blocking laws.

“We’ve already done two very radical things which have been partly driven by lobbying and political donations from Roadshow and other copyright organisations.”

AEC records show that just in the 2017/18 financial year alone, Village Roadshow donated over $163,000 to the Australian Labor Party and National Liberal Party.

Rimmer says the government's willingness to be swayed by the copyright industry - the people that stand to benefit the most off laws like Article 13 - could see Australia adopt similar legislation.

“The problem in Australia has been the major two political parties have their choices very much driven by political donors from the copyright industries,” Rimmer says.

“Given that the EU laws were largely crafted by copyright industries I have no doubt that there will be more radical proposals like that put forward in Australia.”

Short term effects

Predictions over what impact the EU copyright laws will have are speculative, as there’s still two years before the become implemented across the EU.

University of Adelaide Dean of Law, Professor Melissa De Zwart says that until Australia makes moves to adopt similar legislation, the effects will be small.

“This is very much contained to the EU because of how the EU copyright directive laws work,” De Zwart told The Feed.

“I think Australia has been through this argument a few times already, I don’t believe there is an appetite for it. Right now they’re [Australian government] more concerned with the social media issues, Christchurch and harmful content.”

That’s not to say that it couldn’t happen. De Zwart sees legislation like Article 13 as a sign of how the internet - and its users - are evolving.

“It’s at this moment that you realise that the internet is maturing. A lot of the leeway that was given to platforms in the early days of the internet is leaving, there’s recognition that they’re legitimate business now,” says De Zwart.

It’s always been we’re only just amateurs but we’re not amateurs anymore.