00:00 [Female narrator, Amy] When I first put together this video essay on Article 13 back in December of 2018 there was a huge public outroar surrounding the perceived consequences of Article 13 passing in the EU. While it was never explicitly stated by those working on the article
that memes would be banned under this new legislation, it was pointed out by people whose careers include creating online content that memes often include copyright content, and would therefore be policed by Article 13. Without the backlash the EU received from meme lovers and creators, I doubt that this issue would have ever been addressed as directly as it has been. On March 26th of 2019 the BBC released an article by Zoe Kleinman: “The European Parliament said that memes would be ‘specifically excluded’ from the directive, although it was unclear how tech firms would be able to enforce that rule with a blanket filter… MEP for London Mary Honeyball said: ‘There’s no problem with memes at all. This directive was never intended to stop memes and mashups. I think that’s doom-mongering. People who carry out their business properly have nothing to worry about at all.’” I would argue that that’s rather a bold statement. I am still skeptical about how the programs that tech companies utilize to filter through all of these memes will be able to identify whether or not copyright content is a meme or not. It seems like a rather large task for just a blanket program. In addition with how quickly memes rise and fall in popularity, riff off of each other and utilize content from many different platforms, it seems virtually impossible that there will be the freedom necessary to let memes flourish and evolve under the legislation of Article 13, even despite these new developments. Even despite the positive intentions have been expressed by people involved in this legislation, I don’t see how practically this issue may be resolved, and for that reason I believe that it is important to keep talking about the importance of memes and to question the validity of copyright laws as they continue to change and get more strict over time. Alright. Let’s get into the video.
01:52 [Felix Kjellberg] European union did an oopsie?
01:55 [Matt Patt] This affects anyone who’s ever posted any still image meme-
02:00 [Phillip DeFranco] And I personally find the move with Article 13 in it’s current state to be bat – crazy.
02:04 [Matt Patt] We all kinda suffer and content as we know it online fundamentally shifts, and I would say it shifts for the worse.
02:10 [Felix Kjellberg] Memes is going to die everybody-
02:12 [Amy] There’s been a lot of outrage recently in regards to the European Union’s newest copyright law- Article 13. Commonly known as the “meme killer”, it is suspected to have massive consequences for European content creators, consumers, for major information hosting websites including YouTube, Twitter, and Google, and of course, for memes. But what does all of this mean? What is Article 13? What are its implications? And why is everyone so upset about memes? Before we can really understand all of the conflicts surrounding Article 13 we need to understand why people are so upset and what they’re fighting for. That being memes. What are memes? While in the digital age many individuals might hear the word “meme” and immediately think of a stock image of a man admiring a blonde woman while a brunette woman, who is assumedly his girlfriend, is appalled at his actions, memes are actually much broader than that. In “Darwinian Creativity and Memetics”, author Maria Kronfeldner refers to memes as “units of culture, such as ideas, beliefs, rules for behavior,” and this has become a relatively universal way to categorize memes in memetics. A comprehensive essay published by
The University of Illinois states that: “‘Meme’… describes a basic unit of culture idea or symbol that can be transmitted from one mind to another. …In our everyday lives we live with memes;” In other words, memes are sharable ideas. Saying “bless you” after someone sneezes is a form of
meme. The entire fashion industry is made up of sharable ideas. They infect everyone’s minds until the majority of the population is wearing skinny jeans when just a few months ago they were all wearing boot cut jeans. It’s the sharing, recreating, and evolution of memes that inspire author Limor Shifman to refer to them as “units of imitation”. Of course, all of these broad definitions of “meme” is not what the Internet users are talking about when they claim that the EU is going to ban memes. At least, not exactly. Internet users are talking about a specific type of meme- that being, of course, Internet memes. Shifman defines “internet memes as (a) a group of digital items sharing common characteristics of content, form, and/or stance, which (b) were created with awareness of each other, and (c) were circulated, imitated, and/or transformed via the Internet by many users.” Shifman points out one of the amazing things about Internet memes when he says they have the ability to take on so many different forms. Some memes might rely on just a stagnant image, some with some accompanying text, some with just text alone, some with video or with audio elements-
04:31 [Drew Gooden] Road work ahead? Uh, yeah, I sure hope it does.
04:37 [Amy] -and some with a combination of all of these things. It is because of these multimedia elements that digital memes are so widely, as Shifman pointed out, “circulated, imitated, and/or transformed”. Take, for example, a popular meme that has continued to resurface since it first
became a meme in the early 2000’s- the song “All Star” by Smash Mouth.
04:56 “All Star” by Smash Mouth- “Somebody once told me the world was gonna roll me-”
05:01 “All Star” by Smash Mouth continues [Amy] Though the song came out in 1999, it gained much of its popularity from its use in the 2001 Dreamworks’ film, Shrek. Since then it’s been remixed, dubbed, and manipulated countless times.
05:11 “All Star” by Smash Mouth- “Somebody once told me the world was gonna roll me-”
05:16 “All Star” by Smash Mouth continues, but using only autotuned Windows XP sounds in place of the original music and melody.
05:20 “All Star” by Smash Mouth continues, but only using the word “somebody” autotuned and repeated over and over again in place of the original melody.
05:25 “All Star” by Smash Mouth continues, but only played on boom whackers and with cups in place of the original music and melody.
05:32 “All Star” by Smash Mouth continues, but played on two calculators in place of the original music melody.
05:36 “All Star” by Smash Mouth continues, but played dramatically on a piano in place of the original music and melody.
05:40 “All Star” by Smash Mouth continues, but played dramatically on a piano in place of the original music and melody [Amy] While a giant, collective online joke about the irony of listening to “All Star” might be considered rather stupid, it doesn’t mean that the meme doesn’t have significance. There is something important about Smash Mouth’s “All Star”, just like there is something important about all internet memes. The University of Illinois states that, “the intricacies of a meme lies in what the masses find appropriate to express an idea, regardless of how simple or pointless it may be.” So regardless of how foolish the popularity of the “All Star” meme may seem, it has undeniable cultural significance due to widespread knowledge of the meme and its prevalence in Internet meme culture. This is especially important to note, because there have been instances where an Internet meme has jumped from having significance in the digital world to having significance in the real world. Companies have been utilizing Internet memes for marketing campaigns, there are books and games that have been produced in which their subject matter is strictly Internet memes, and the meme known as “RickRolling” (in which you send someone a video that seems as though it’s going to be about something serious, but that actually turns out to just be the 1987 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” music video)-
06:44 “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley begins to play. Rhett and Link chuckle. [Link] I think we’ve just been RickRolled.
06:48 [Amy] -widespread recirculating of his song in the mid-2000’s brought him out of retirement to perform in the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
06:56 “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley plays. [Rick Astley] We’re no strangers to love-
07:04 [Amy] “It can be very much argued that such memes (like Rickrolling) brought together a cultural concept, across the digital and international boundaries, to further tell us the story the advent of viral ideas on social media, as well as global change and connectivity.” Internet memes inform us what is important to our culture. Internet memes allow for connectivity and creativity across various communities all around the world. Internet memes are important.That in itself is important to keep in mind when we consider the threat that Article 13 poses to the livelihood of memes, which brings us to our second question. What is Article 13? Article 13 is, essentially, a copyright law. It’s not inherently evil, in fact, like most copyright laws, it has good intentions. Lettie Ransley explains that the motivation behind the modern copyright legislation is one which has been around since the very first copyright legislation, “The Statue of Anne”.
07:56 [Lettie Ransley] The motive of “Anne” was to enable authors to profit from their work and by enabling them to do so to encourage them to make more and the mechanism that was put in place to facilitate this was putting control over the copying of their work back into their hands.
08:18 [Amy] Copyright is important and at least somewhat necessary. As an artist myself, I know the fear that is associated with the unbridled sharing of my creative works, especially online. This is something that Kirby Ferguson would describe as “loss aversion”.
08:28 [Kirby Ferguson] Now behavioral economists might refer to this sort of thing as “Loss Aversion. We have a strong predisposition towards protecting what we feel is ours.
08:35 [Amy] While this “loss aversion”, this fear of losing our original content, especially online, is ever present, there has also been another fear that has been on the rise recently due to intensifying copyright legislation.
08:47 [Nina Paley] And I often hear people engaged in creative pursuits ask, “Am I allowed to use this? I don’t want to get in trouble.” And it’s the threat of trouble t hat is dictating our choices about what we express. Copyright activates our internal censors. Internal censorship is the enemy of creativity because it halts expression before it can even begin. Whenever we censor our expression we close a little more and information flows a little less. The less information flows, the more it stagnates. Evolution, progress, and innovation stall. This is what we call, “permission culture”.
09:25 [Amy] So while the intention of copyright is to protect and foster culture, wit can do more harm than good when its taken too far. And I would argue that Article 13 is taking it too far. Article 13 is a part of a larger collection of copyright legislation currently up for vote in the European
Union known as the EU Copyright Directive. While there are many articles up for vote, Article 13 has gotten the most media.
09:48 [Philip DeFranco] “arguably one of the most contested articles in the EUCD is Article 13. It’s often referred to as the upload filter and it would make most internet platforms that host large amounts of user uploaded content directly liable for copyright infringements by their users.
10:01 [Amy] So, what’s the problem with these new requirements that Article 13 wants to make mandatory? In an article by Metro, it explains that “Article 13 introduces mandatory upload filtering which requires online platforms such as YouTube and Instagram to install filters to prevent users from uploading copyrighted materials or to seek licences to display content. Critics say this could mean the end for internet memes where ordinary internet users riff on other people’s photos, music or video”. These critics concerns were validated when CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, expressed her concerns in an online blog post: “The proposal will force platforms, like YouTube, to prioritize content from a small number of large companies… Article 13 threatens to shut down the ability to millions of people… to upload content to platforms like YouTube.” Despite the good intentions of Article 13 to protect copyrighted material, ultimately this will result in an Internet culture, especially in Europe, where people are unable to remix content, to share content, to interact with it to the fullest capacity. This is a frightening possibility for both internet consumers and creators. Creators like Felix Kjellberg, the host of the internet show “Meme Review” (which is exactly what it sounds like)- he expressed his concerns over Article 13 back in June of 2018.
11:15 [Felix Kjellberg] The thing is I understand what they’re trying to do but clearly this is the idea of someone that doesn’t understand the Internet. The Internet is all about sharing, it’s all about reposting. And generally no one seems to have a problem with that. And it’s a certain ecosystem that’s already in place and if you mess with that idea, it’s going to ruin a lot of what’s positive about the Internet, a lot of what’s good about the Internet.
11:38 [Amy] Now here we are, months later, and Article 13 has been up for vote several times but hasn’t exactly passed through. It’s up for vote again in January of 2019. Part of the reason that it’s been voted on so many times and is continuing to be voted on is because of the outrage that has been sparked in the general public over the ramifications of Article 13. It’s caused the EU to rethink some of their copyright legislation especially in Article 13, making it so, yes, there is still hope for memes in Europe. With all that being said, it’s important, as Internet users, creators, consumers- that we advocate for a free Internet culture. While we should respect other people’s work, we should be wary about the extreme copyright legislation that exists in things like Article 13, and we shouldn’t be afraid to speak up about it. Remember, Internet memes, as silly or pointless as they may seem, are units of culture, and as units of culture, they deserve to be protected. Memes are important. Free the meme.