- A new copyright proposal in the EU would result in effectively banning memes from the internet.
- Opponents of the proposal say that it will “destroy the internet as we know it.”
- The Commissioners hope the law will ensure content creators get fairly compensated for their work.
The term meme – coined by evolutionary biologist and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene – has spread across the internet over the past five years, not unlike internet memes themselves. But a lot of those memes are technically intellectual property theft.
For example, the popular meme of Kermit the Frog drinking a glass of Lipton tea features not one but three violations of copyright. Kermit and Lipton are both brands that did not permit the proliferation of the meme, and the creator(s) of the advertisement that the image is screen-capped from likely didn’t give permission either.
IP theft is definitely wrong and illegal, but most meme-creators are not doing so for any kind of financial gain, making prosecution difficult. This legal grey area might be made to be more black-and-white with Article 13 of a proposed European Union Copyright Directive.
Within Article 13, strict legal wording is used that would apply to all forms of art “whether it is made in studios or living rooms, whether it is disseminated offline or online, whether it is published via a copying machine or commercially hyperlinked on the web.”
Opponents of Article 13 argue that the destruction of meme proliferation would “destroy the internet as we know it” and “allow big companies to control what we see and do online.”
In response to the campaign, a European Commission spokesperson told Sky News: “The idea behind our copyright proposals is that people should be able to make a living from their creative ideas. The [Article 13 proposals] will not harm freedom of expression on the internet.”
The primary purpose of Article 13, per the Commissioners, would be to ensure journalists, publishers, authors, and creators are paid fairly for their work.
While monitoring the entire internet for “illegal” use of memes would be nearly impossible, the EU Copyright Commission says that “technological developments that have already been introduced [will] help to ensure the author’s fair remuneration for their work.”
How this would be achieved isn’t entirely clear.
One example of the destructive power of meme culture is Pepe the Frog, created by Matt Furie. Although Pepe was designed as a funny, sad frog, Pepe’s image was appropriated by the alt-right movement which associated the Pepe image with fascism and racism. As such, Pepe is recognized as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League.
This year, Furie started suing alt-right organizations such as InfoWars for appropriating Pepe the Frog. The outcome of cases like these could have broader reach over meme culture in general.