September 13, 2018 2:10 pm

Potential ‘meme killer’ law moves forward with EU lawmakers

WATCH ABOVE: A proposed European Union Copyright Directive, meant to prevent online music and video piracy, may threaten the existence of internet meme culture.

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The European Parliament has passed a bill that would force tech companies to block copyrighted music, videos and photos from the internet, and to pay publishers for featuring their content.

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Lawmakers passed the EU Copyright Directive in a vote on Wednesday, after introducing more than 100 amendments to a bill that was previously shot down in July. The bill still needs to pass another vote in January before it comes into effect.

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Among other things, the bill calls for automatic filters of uploaded content that would identify copyrighted material. It would also make online publishing platforms liable for copyright infringement.

Critics have dubbed the bill a “meme killer” because of its Article 13, which would force tech companies to automatically filter all copyright content off their platforms. Article 13 could force tech companies to censor a wide range of pop culture-related content, such as fan art, video game streaming, movie trailer reactions and memes.

READ MORE: An EU copyright law threatens to kill memes for everyone

“It’s a blunt instrument and it’s going to lead to lots of over-censorship,” Jim Killock, head of the U.K.-based Open Rights Group, told Global News in late June, ahead of the original vote.

Killock said that while the law would be put into effect in the EU, it would likely end up affecting the entire internet and its users around the globe.

Critics have also described Article 11 of the bill as a “hyperlink tax,” because it compels tech companies to pay publishers whenever it features their work. The latest version of the bill tweaks Article 11 to ignore “insubstantial parts of a press publication,” but the term is not clearly defined.

The European Commission says the copyright overhaul is necessary to protect Europe’s cultural heritage, and to level the playing field between giant tech companies and publishers, broadcasters and artists.

The vote passed with 438 in favour, 226 opposed and 39 abstaining. EU lawmakers will have to work out details of the final law with the 28-member nations before it’s put to a final vote in early 2019.

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“I am very glad that despite the very strong lobbying campaign by the internet giants, there is now a majority in the full house backing the need to protect the principle of fair play for European creatives,” Axel Voss, Member of the European Parliament from Germany, said in a statement. Voss has led the push to get the bill passed.

“I am convinced that once the dust has settled, the internet will be as free as it is today. Creators and journalists will earn a fairer share of the revenues generated by their works, and we will be wondering what all the fuss was about.”

French President Emmanuel Macron called the vote a “great advance for Europe.” The European Commission’s digital chief, Andrus Ansip, said it sent a strong and positive signal of reform designed to protect EU researchers, educators, writers, media and cultural heritage institutions.

The Federation of European Film Directors, the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe and the Society of Audiovisual Authors all came out in support of the decision.

Beatles member Paul McCartney has come out in favour of the law, while former Fugees singer Wyclef Jean has opposed it.

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Laura Tribe, executive director of the OpenMedia advocacy group, condemned the vote in a post on Wednesday, calling it a “huge blow” for creators, internet users and open internet advocates.

Tribe said the bill “limits the ability for internet users to create and share online.” She also criticized it for imposing “taxes on hyperlinks” and enforcing pre-upload filters on content.

Tech giants said they were disappointed with the result.

“It’s bad for creators, for entrepreneurs and for innovators,” Philip Schindler, Google’s chief business officer, said at a digital marketing event in Germany.

Mozilla, the makers of Firefox, vowed to continue its fight.

“We at Mozilla will do everything we can to achieve a modern reform that safeguards the health of the internet and promotes the rights of users,” the company said in a statement. “There’s simply too much at stake not to.”

— With files from Reuters and the Associated Press

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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