Are memes violating copyright law

EU plans for upload filters could mean death knell for memes

In this gallery: 4 pictures

If you believe critics, the course in Europe is set for a radical transformation of the Internet. The American Electronic Frontier Foundation, arguably the most important network-political organization in the world, warns of a "crisis of the Internet", and more than seventy IT luminaries such as WWW inventor Tim Berners-Lee speak of a censorship machine that constantly monitors the Internet Established user. This is opposed by large publishers, the music industry and the conservative faction in the EU Parliament, who speak of a fair balance between the IT industry and authors.

Upload filter

The cause of the excitement is Article 13 of the EU copyright reform, which passed the Legal Affairs Committee of the EU Parliament on Wednesday. It stipulates that in future platforms will automatically check whether content uploaded by users violates copyright law. Youtube, Facebook and Twitter would have to tighten their filters so that protected photos, songs or videos are blocked immediately.


Strictly interpreting these rules results in the death knell for internet memes. Because the popular text-image combinations or short animated videos work precisely because they contain pop-cultural references. A photo from the TV series "Game of Thrones" or a short clip of Cristiano Ronaldo's goal celebration nevertheless constitute a copyright infringement. In the USA, however, this is permitted with a so-called "fair use" rule.

But even if similar clauses are included in the planned EU rules at the last second, memes could fall victim to the upload filters. It is to be feared that the machine filters of Youtube, Twitter and the like cannot recognize the difference between a "classic" copyright infringement and a meme or other remix.

"Cultural Crime"

The German MEP Axel Voss (CDU) spoke of "cultural crime" in this context. He does not understand how one could think "to shape one's freedom of expression with the rights of others". As rapporteur, Voss made a decisive contribution to the new regulations.

His group colleagues from the ÖVP are the only Austrian party to support the proposal. The EU MP Heinz Becker spoke of a "compromise for the good of all" in which online platforms are given "more responsibility".

FPÖ and Neos leave the parliamentary group

This contrasts with severe criticism from the SPÖ and the Greens, but also from the FPÖ and Neos. The last two parties named are thus against the majority opinion in their parliamentary groups. The members of the French Front National and Liberals in the EU legal committee voted for the controversial plans.

For this reason too, opponents of the directive still draw hope. The plenary session of the EU Parliament will deal with the proposal over the next two weeks. That means that all MEPs will vote on it. If there are other national delegations that deviate from the majority opinion of their party, the plans could still be overturned. (Fabian Schmid, June 21, 2018)