Memes. You’ve seen them, shared them, and maybe even created them. Now, as part of a new law called the EU Copyright Directive, memes face potential censorship by giants like Facebook, Reddit, and 4chan. The new law is not specifically targeting memes, although memes fall under the wide umbrella of the types of information that could potentially become censored, according to Wired.
Article 13 of the Copyright Directive says that large websites must use “content recognition technologies” to find copyrighted videos, photos, text, and even code. The “content” also includes sound, reported Gizmodo. Currently, some large website companies are already using such content recognition technologies. For example, YouTube uses an AI system and human employees to censor inappropriate uploads.
The sweeping call for censorship has received large amounts of criticism. Around 70 notable figures from the tech industry signed an open letter to the President of the European Parliament. The message was that Article 13 would infringe on basic freedoms like the freedom of speech and education. Also, Article 13 makes it virtually impossible for small businesses to continue operating since the required content recognition technologies cost a ton of money.
Other critics have pointed out that these content recognition technologies are not flawless. For example, an image that looks similar to a copyrighted image could be flagged accidentally.
Also, as documented by Wired, activist Cory Doctorow mentioned that “something like having your protest footage blocked because of a passing motorist whose car radio was blaring a pop song – it is a match, but not one that infringes copyright.”
— Alec Muffett (@AlecMuffett) June 19, 2018
Doctorow emphasized the issue with bots.
“Making these claims will be MUCH easier than sorting them out – bots can use cloud providers all over the world to file claims, while companies like Automattic (WordPress) or Twitter, or even projects like Wikipedia, would have to marshall vast armies to sort through the claims and remove the bad ones – and if they get it wrong and remove a legit copyright claim, they face unbelievable copyright liability.”
Moreover, if someone has content unjustly censored, there’s little that one can do. At this point, some believe that the person would need to contest the censorship in court.
— Liberties.eu (@LibertiesEU) June 19, 2018
And all the different forms of censorship that could take place were highlighted by Eff, which listed things like photos where you are wearing a shirt with a copyrighted logo or uploading a photo of a book cover to Amazon or eBay. Also, websites that rely on links could be required to purchase link licenses, which has huge implications for news sites.