Meme Culture and Bridging the Gaps: A Response to “Article 13: Banning Memes and Modern Cultural Expression”
By Adrienne Raw, University of Michigan
When I first watched Amy Wagner’s “Article 13: Banning Memes and Modern Cultural Expression,” I was immediately reminded of my personal stakes in the problem of copyright law and internet culture. As a fandom scholar and long-time fanfiction writer and reader, I live in an online world that thrives and depends on the ability to repurpose and remix the work of others, and overly restrictive copyright laws like Article 13 can have just as significant an impact in the world of fandom as elsewhere online. Wagner’s video essay focuses on the damage Article 13 could do to the internet’s expansive meme culture by forcing online platforms to automatically scan and prevent the uploading of copyrighted content without licensing agreements. Her work, though, makes the issue of copyright law and internet culture both more broadly applicable and more widely accessible. Just as Article 13’s copyright restrictions might prevent the creation of memes, they might also curtail the work of fan authors and artists who write, draw, and create image sets and videos based on the work of others. Memes are just one aspect of internet culture that these laws impact, but Wagner’s work invites us all into the conversation because we all have a personal stake in the shape and future of our internet. In challenging Article 13 through meme culture, Wagner brings in a wider array of digital culture and makes the stakes personal for all of us who participate in that culture.
But just as Wagner makes this question personal for the denizens of the digital culture, she also moves to build a bridge between digital spaces and the non-digital. Not everyone lives immersed in digital culture and for all the popularity of internet memes, viral videos, and the work that remixes the world, these remixing impulses are not universally understood or enjoyed. For every moment where Wagner makes meme culture a rallying point for all digital denizens, she also makes meme culture a gateway for those who interact less with digital culture, making meme culture accessible and relevant to broader viewership. By highlighting the underlying impulse of copyright to support the labor of creators, she also reminds us that copyright law is not necessarily our enemy. It just, maybe, doesn’t understand the world we’re coming from.
At the heart of her work, then, Wagner asks us to think about the divides in our culture and society—between the digital and the world outside the screen, between popular culture and legal rights—but reminds us that these divides are not insurmountable. But bridging that gap requires recognizing its existence, recognizing that legal and political interests don’t always take contemporary cultural contexts and expressions into account because there is a gap. Wagner urges us to think through those gaps and to be active citizens, digital and otherwise, in bridging them.