The EU's new "meme ban" could change the internet forever

The fear of being sued may push platforms to “over-block” and throttle content that even vaguely resembles copyrighted material.

BERLIN — Imagine the internet without all those crazy memes that make your day. That’s what Europeans are worried about after the EU Parliament voted last week in favor of a wonky-sounding law called the “copyright directive in the digital single market.”

Lawmakers claim the directive will protect the rights of online creators, but opponents say it will create an unintended consequence: restricting freedom of speech.


The most contentious section of the law, Article 13, says platforms can be sued if they don’t make “best efforts” to stop copyrighted content from being uploaded onto their sites. That’s a radical departure from the status quo, where the liability for infringing copyright currently rests with the individual user.

Dennis Brammen, a popular German YouTuber, says he supports the law in principle but the “liability switch is the problem.” He thinks the fear of being sued will push platforms to “over-block” and throttle content that even vaguely resembles copyrighted material. That fear is why people are calling Article 13 "the meme ban."

Opponents like Brammen believe the only feasible way to screen millions of uploads will be to use algorithm-led upload filters — which will inevitably be imperfect, error-prone and unable to tell the difference between a copyrighted image and a parody of one.

But passing the directive in the EU Parliament is only the first step. Member states have a two-year deadline to interpret and implement the law locally. That’s got Brammen worried even more immediately: Some governments might use this period as an excuse to further control what happens online … “and that's a bad thing.”

This segment originally aired March 26, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.