EU parliament votes on digital copyright law

YouTube's logo is seen against the flag of the European Union.

Two particular parts of the directive have attracted the most criticism from pro-internet freedom activists.

One is Article 13. This section calls on internet giants to take “appropriate and proportionate” measures to prevent user-generated content that infringes a rightsholder’s copyright.

This part of the law has come under heavy criticism over concerns that tech giants could end up using automated content filtering systems. The law states that “effective content recognition systems” should be put in place by digital companies to prevent copyrighted materials from being distributed on their platforms.

Campaigners have scrutinized this part of the legislation over concerns that it could amount to censorship, and argue that the use of copyright-protected material by way of commentary or parody should be permitted under the doctrine of “fair use.”

Particular attention has been paid to the status of “memes,” which often rely on copyright protected images or pieces of video, and whether they could be censored as a result.

“This plan for ‘robo-copyright’ would target memes, parodies and clips of people cheering at football matches,” Jim Killock, executive director of anti-censorship organization Open Rights Group, told CNBC in an email Tuesday. “Copyright is important, but so is free speech.”

He added: “Machines can’t judge human culture. When they can, we’ll have bigger issues to think through than copyright enforcement.”

But Axel Voss, a European parliamentarian and key proponent of the law, has said it won’t lead to the censorship of memes.

“If we are looking to memes, the legitimate use of memes is not a question of Article 13, it is of copyright,” Voss told CNBC in July. “This is nothing new.”

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