Meme Crimes: The Rise and Fall of Article 13


The form of comedy that showcases the modern mindset. A meme, much like other forms of comedy, comes in many variations. Memes can make a salient political point with a single picture and caption. They can also be used to reference a modern facet of life through a nostalgic lens in order to showcase that society makes very similar mistakes. I personally think Mark Twain’s commentary fits here. Especially this quote: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Today the rhyme is the suppression of critique done by comedy. Though it’s not the same as say, Martin Luther’s criticism of the Catholic Church back in 1517, but as said, history often rhymes.

Article 13

I’m writing this a few days after the controversial EU legislation known as Article 13 was voted down. The proposed law is described as being an attempt to modernize copyright protection for the internet era. This “Meme ban” would require EU ISSPs (information society service providers) to enforce copyright protections on various online media.

This would target videos, music, and even pictures. What this all boils down to is any meme that uses copyrighted material would have infringed upon Article 13. For example, any meme using a clip or still from The Simpsons (something called “Simpsonsposting”) would fall under this law’s jurisdiction. As well as any song remix or mashup.

One of the more obvious problems with an “Anti-meme” law like this would be its restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of information. Needless to say, a copyright takedown of a photo meme on Twitter of UK Prime Minister Elizabeth May due to it belonging to the BBC would be ridiculous on its own. Taking a meme down because it incorporates a picture of Ash Ketchum from popular anime franchise “Pokémon” is even more absurd.

It is categorically asinine to enforce a law that would force internet providers to take down memes simply because they contain copyrighted material. Especially because, though there are exceptions, most memes are not monetized. With the way social media has become intertwined with society at large restricting, say, a Spongebob Squarepants meme is near, if not equivalent to, having the police ticket a group of people for singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” in public on behalf of Freddie Mercury’s estate. Ludicrous, right?

Well, unfortunately, people like Paul McCartney of the Beatles don’t think so. It represents a lack of respect for the concept of Fair Use, something that the U.S. has made some legislative progress with in some ways thanks to the precedent-setting case with h3h3 Productions. (See, Hosseinzadeh v. Klein)

Youtube Censorship

Now, in my opinion, the other major problem with this proposed law is its ability to be enforced. YouTube, which is owned by Google, still is notorious among content creators for its inability to handle the sheer amount of videos that get uploaded onto the website every hour.

As a result of this, many creators that I know personally have had their videos demonetized. This was due to YouTube’s reliance on an automated algorithm. One case specifically, the YouTube channel “Gulf City Streams” has its streaming privileges removed for 90 days for playing a movie that was listed as non-copyrighted due to its copyright expiring under U.S. law.

Gulf City Cartoons is a property created by Justin Smith from the state of Texas. He and a few of his friends created Gulf City last year. During this time they have held regularly scheduled streams on one of their channels as a way to stay connected with the fans of their series.

A few months ago and this channel was hit with a copyright strike. This was for a movie from 1938 called “Sex Madness”, an exploitation movie in the same vein as “Reefer Madness.” Sex Madness is listed as public domain. The channel was struck again for playing “Merry Melodies” a collection of cartoon shorts with sister series you may have heard of called “Looney Tunes.”

Justin Smith explains, “We’ve found that once something enters the public domain, it might be then re-licensed by another distributor, so some things that are part of public domain are either incorrectly listed, or incorrectly detected by YouTube’s algorithm.” The Gulf City team has since had to migrate to another channel of theirs called “Gulf City Live”. They are only one of a dozen channels I can personally name that have been hit with strikes on YouTube that have ceased their ability to make a stable income.

Meme Future

My point in bringing you Smith’s story is to point out that YouTube cannot confidently say their algorithm for copyright works. There’s no way they can hire enough people to manually apply copyright protection.

So how does the EU plan to have service providers do so on the entire internet for pictures, videos, and music? In reality, they can’t. Now luckily, Article 13 was voted down recently. That being said, the EU is going to debate the topic of copyright protection on the internet this upcoming fall. We should keep watch on the situation, as it could set a terrible precedent for how people in the EU can express themselves. Laws like this take the fun out of the internet.

I’ll finish with this, what the internet has been calling the “Meme Ban” law is actually a very poorly thought out copyright law. It is understandable to want to protect your creations, but after a certain amount of time in the era of interconnectivity, it may be wise to rethink laws like this altogether.

From video games to movies to music, most media tends to be consumed within the first month after release. After that, media companies are banking on residuals. Copyright law seems to vastly overextend the amount of time one can effectively censor those who wish to use aspects of a media property.

Had Article 13 been voted in, we very well could have heard of Twitter accounts from the EU getting copyright warnings for a Game of Thrones meme. And if things take a turn for the worse this Fall, we very well could start seeing that kind of action happen.

You can read more by Malcolm on Think Liberty here.


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