I’ve spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out where I stand on the European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, or as it is more infamously known as–Article 13 (you know that thing where everyone is shouting #savetheInternet). Or maybe it was just the caffeine. Wait, I don’t drink coffee…
The directive is an effort to tighten copyright laws. If passed, it would only be a EU ruling, but it could affect everyone. Right now, organizations like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are protected by “safe harbor” laws, which means if you created a video and then someone copied it and posted it on YouTube, you can’t sue YouTube (more on safe harbor can be found here or on The Film Theorist Channel for a simplified explanation). Which makes sense, YouTube didn’t break the law…the poster did. Under the new directive, Facebook, YouTube, and their digital brethren would be responsible.
As an author, the directive might actually benefit me. It would make sure that I got paid for my work. For instance, according to WIRED’s article, Article 11 would require news aggregator sites to pay a link tax for the articles they share.
Also, under this directive content such as game walkthroughs would be gone. With no more Fortnite videos, people might actually pick up a book…or at least watch YouTube videos done by animators. This might give animators a shot at making actual animations and not vlog animations. Right now the YouTube algorithm supports longer and daily videos, which is very difficult for animators to do. With no long, daily gameplay videos popping up, the algorithm would have to be changed to support the shorter, less frequent videos (or even longer, less frequent videos) that animators or other storytellers can do.
But in reality, it is unlikely that Fortnite videos are going anywhere, even if the directive passes. The YouTubers who do gameplay videos can get away with it partly because the creators don’t raise a stink about it. First, it would be a nightmare for Epic Games to monitor every post for any Fortnite gameplay, which is one of the reasons the directive was proposed in the first place. The directive designers want Epic Games to spend their time and resources on making, well, epic games instead of scouring the Internet looking for copyright infringement.
Second, Epic Games (like many other developers) realized these YouTube videos were free marketing. Even if a theory channel (cough, The Game Theorists, cough) makes fun of the game, people are still talking about it. And sometimes someone making light of your product is more effective than someone praising it.
So, even if the directive does pass, the companies will probably still allow the walkthroughs. They’re not going to shoot themselves in the foot by getting rid of their free advertising. It’s why authors allow reviews done on their works. It’s free advertising and customers like knowing what they’re getting before they pay for it. I know I’m not paying $60 for Marvel’s Spider-Man if I don’t know if I’ll like it. Also, the genie is out of the bottle. People know about and love the idea of watching walkthroughs. The companies don’t want the bad PR from being the one to “destroy the freedom.”
The other rallying cry of those who don’t support Article 13 is the idea that memes will be banned. Turns out, nope. Memes are considered parodies and therefore, OK. The problem is that computers can’t tell the difference between a parody and the real thing. They have to be programed. So, there are a few options. And while I do have a degree in computer science, I don’t work for Google or Apple so they might have more effective ideas.
One option is YouTube, Twitter, etc will need a database for their copyright catching net to search through. Someone uploads a video and the system scans it and either okays it or rejects it. It’s how your bank password works (roughly). You enter your password and username, the system checks and says, “Yup, that matches” and let’s you in. It’s a lot more complicated with a lot more firewalls, security, and such but that is the basic idea. So, the system would need a reference, which means a server containing every movie, book, video game, and so on. That’s a lot of server space and it would take forever for you to upload a video as the computer tried to search through the files. So, that’s out.
Option two: some kind of code embedded into the object, like DRM codes that eBooks, music, and such have already. The system scans the upload and says either “there’s no code; you pass” or “there’s a DRM…YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” (I had to do it. I am talking about memes.) But…if you wanted to make a meme you’d need to figure out some way to remove the DRM. Or you would need to pay for some kind of meme-DRM.
Option three: forget the computer and hire people. The services could hire people to check the videos/posts and see if they are memes or not. Like that’ll happen. They would need to hire a lot of people in order to monitor every tweet or video that gets uploaded. And that’s all they would do…all day.
Option four: licensing. The creators, such as Epic Games, do as they do now (just more officially) and allow the memes, the gameplay, the reviews. They work with YouTube, Twitter, and so on. Of course, someone will abuse the system and upload the whole Toy Story 4 movie and then YouTube gets sued by Disney which is the whole reason they created the safe harbor law in the first place. So, then Disney and everyone else removes their permission and we’re back to memes being banned and YouTube channels being shutdown.
Pretty much all the options are costly or inefficient. Ironically, the best meme-protection is the system already in place.
So, it’s not looking too good for the memes, legal or not. But in the next post (because everyone loves a two-parter…not), we’ll look at the one’s who’ll suffer the most if the directive passes: the service platforms, the creators, and you (the customer).