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What will happen to our memes?

In Europe, new rules concerning copyright law are being created that could change the internet fundamentally. We worry about the consequences that the proposed upload filters will have for our creativity online. What, for example, happens to your memes when the new legislation will be implemented?

The plans that will shortly be voted on by the European Parliament, contain new rules regarding the enforcement of copyrights. Websites have to check every upload that is made by their users for possible breaches of copyright law, and must block this content when in doubt. Even though memes are often based on a still from a movie, well-known photo or video clip, advocates of the legislation repeat time and again that this doesn’t mean memes will disappear.For example through these kinds of messages They reason instead that exceptions will be made for that. In practice, however, such an exception does not seem workable and impairs the speed and thus the essence of memes. Because even if the platforms won’t program their filters conservatively, it will be impossible to capture the memes’ context in an automated filter.

Step 1: you upload a meme

Imagine, you watch a series and you see an image that you would like to share with your friends. It could be something that’s funny or recognisable to a large group of people. Or you use an existing meme to illustrate a post on social media. Maybe you adjust the meme with the names of your friends or the topic that concerns you at that moment. You upload it on Youtube, Twitter or another online platform.

Step 2: your upload is being filtered

If the new legislation – as is currently proposed in parliament – is implemented, the platform will be obliged to avoid any copyrighted material from appearing online. In order to abide the legislation, they will install automated filters that compare all material on the platform with all the copyrighted material. In case there is a match, the upload will subsequently be blocked. This will also be the case with the meme you were intending to share online, because it originates from the television series, video clip or movie. You get the message: “we apologize, but we are not able to publish this.”

Step 3: it’s your turn

What!? What about the exception that was made in the legislation for memes!? Of course the exception is still there, but in practice it’s impossible to train filters to know the context of every image. Because: how does a filter know what is a meme and what isn’t? New memes appear every day, so how do these filters keep learning? There are many examples of filters that fail alreadyWhen filters fail. Hence; you’ll need to get to work. Just like you can appeal against the online platforms’ decision when it has wrongfully blocked a picture for depicting ‘nudity’ or ‘violence’, you will be able to do the same when your meme couldn’t pass the filter. That probably means that you’ll need to fill in a form in which you explain that it is just a meme and in which you would possibly need to motivate why you think it should be uploaded.

Step 4: patience please

After you click ‘send’, all you can do is wait. Just like already is the case with filters of Youtube and Facebook: all possible wrongly filtered posts need to be checked by real human beingsThe Verge wrote an article about the working conditions of these'content moderators' People that can weigh the context and hopefully assess that your image really is a meme. But, that process can take a while…
It is a pity, because your meme was responding perfectly to current events. Swiftness, creativity and familiarity are three key elements of a meme. And to keep the familiarity, you lose the speed.

Step 5: your meme will still be posted online, or not?

At a certain moment in time, you receive a message. Either your upload is being accepted anyway, or there still might be enough reason to refuse your meme from being uploaded. And then what? Will you try again at another platform? That might take some days as well. The fun and power of memes, however, is often the speed in which someone responds to a proposal of a politician, or an answer in a game show. Therefore you shouldn’t let article 13 destroy your creativity!

This article was translated from Dutch by Bits of Freedom-volunteer Winnie van Nunen.

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