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Your Memes Are Safe (For Now): EU Rejects Internet Censorship Bill

Published: July 8, 2018
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By Carey Wedler

(CW— In an unexpected move, this week the European Parliament rejected a highly controversial bill that critics claimed would stifle free speech and creativity on the internet.

The EU Copyright Directive was heavily criticized over two elements in particular.

Article 11 would have established a “link tax,” which would have required online publishes to pay a fee for the right to link to news organizations. Critics argued the vague language did not adequately define what constitutes a link and said the rule could easily become a tool for political abuse.

According to many opponents, Article 13 would have further stifled free expression in the digital age by tightening copyright rules and requiring platforms to police users’ content. As a letter signed by 70 prominent members of the tech industry asserted:

By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, 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.

“Article 13 is that it makes no exceptions for fair use, a foundation of the internet an essential caveat in the law that allows people to remix copyrighted works,” Gizmodo noted.

Though proponents of the bill rejected the widespread suggestions that the bill could potentially even make many memes illegal because they often include copyrighted content, the outlet forcefully argued that “Memes, news, Wikipedia, art, privacy, and the creative side of fandom are all at risk of being destroyed or kneecapped.”

The legislation, which was backed by media companies, publishers, and members of the music industry, including Paul McCartney, was ultimately accused of attempting to codify censorship.

Further, the open letter from tech leaders also warned that the costs of implementing such a system would burden smaller companies.

Nevertheless, EU Copyright Directive was expected to pass following two years of debate. Last month, the European Parliament’s legislative committee voted to approve it, making this week’s rejection surprising. Politico reported that after over 75 lawmakers called for a vote, a special procedure was implemented:

The procedure, known as 69c, rarely succeeds, as it requires a simple majority in Parliament to overturn the mandate. In this case, after feverish lobbying and some last-minute about-faces — notably among German conservatives — the attempt succeeded, sending the bill back to the drawing board.

Though the directive in its current form has been rejected, it will now go back to the drawing board where members of parliament can propose changes. It will be put to another vote in September.

Even so, opponents of the legislation are considering the current vote a victory. As Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, which campaigned against the bill, said:

Round one of the Robo-Copyright wars is over. The EU Parliament has recognized that machine censorship of copyright material is not an easy and simple fix. They’ve heard the massive opposition, including Internet blackouts and 750,000 people petitioning them against these proposals.

He continued to urge action to protect the internet as we have come to know it, adding that “Everyone across Europe who wants this fixed will have to work hard to make sure that Parliament comes up with a sensible way forward by September.”

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