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'Meme ban' still on table in EU copyright bill, says MEP

  • Protesters campaigning against article 13 of the proposed new EU copyright directive. They fear it could lead to online platforms filtering what they upload (Photo: epicenter .works)

A centre-left British MEP involved in the EU institutional negotiations over a reformed copyright bill said on Monday (21 January) that the text as it stands could still lead to a ban on memes.

Memes are creative expressions - for example text, photo or video - that are often used as online jokes, and are popular among younger generations.

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Since the reformed EU rules on copyright were proposed in September 2016, one of the biggest fears from the internet community was that the wording of the bill could effectively lead to a ban on memes.

The proposal's article 13 could require online platforms like Google or Facebook to police copyrighted material, with fears of them having to install so-called upload filters.

"There's great truth to that argument, that we could be banning memes," Catherine Stihler told fellow MEPs on Monday.

Stihler informed her colleagues at the parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Protection (Imco) committee about negotiations with the EU's national governments.

Those talks are led on behalf of the EU parliament by centre-right German Axel Voss, with Stihler following the talks for the Imco committee.

National governments are currently represented by Romania, which holds the six-month EU presidency.

The last negotiating round was scheduled for Monday evening, but cancelled after Romania reportedly was unable to get a majority of member states behind a new negotiating mandate.

A spokesman for the European Commission, which also attends the talks, confirmed on Monday the meeting had been cancelled.

"We take note that the council needs more time to finalise its position," said the spokesman, referring to the EU institution where national governments meet.

There were already four rounds of political talks last year, with Austria at the helm of the EU presidency.

Stihler, a Labour MEP, said her committee had not been properly consulted.

"I have never seen a negotiation quite like this in my 20 years of being in the parliament," she said, adding that there had been little progress recently.

"The way things are going does not bode well for this to be concluded in any shape or form at the end of this mandate," said Stihler.

Elections coming

If an agreement is reached, it would still need to be approved by the plenary of the EU parliament.

Since there are European Parliament elections in May 2019, there is a possibility that there is simply not enough time to wrap up the legislative work on the copyright file.

"That may not be a bad thing," Stihler added, because of the potential meme ban.

"My kids look at that and think: how can you possibly even thinking about banning memes," she said.

The copyright debate has seen immense lobbying, from internet companies on one side and publishers on the other side.

The Romanian presidency could not immediately be reached for comment.

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