Meme No More: What You Need To Know About Article 13


The first meme, a cartoon published in the satirical magazine The Judge in 1921.

Recently the European Parliament passed the controversial Article 13, which has many worried since it could infringe upon free speech. Article 13, in simpler terms, aims to prevent the publication of copyrighted material without proper licensing. For example, pirated music or creative content that is posted without permission will hold tech firms responsible for the copyright infringements and will charge a fine that will go to the creator or artist. However, this also includes memes, which many have argued should not be included as they fall under the terms of fair use. As the news of Article 13 became public, the internet community broke into a frenzy over the fate of memes.

Memes are amusing images or videos that are slightly modified and then shared rapidly by internet users. The word ‘meme’, which comes from the Greek mimema meaning ‘imitated’, was coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins to explain the way culture spreads. However, the concept of a satirical or humorous visual with text captions can be found as far back as 1921. In early 2010, before the word meme became popularized, many people began sharing certain images that were commonly used with different captions. “Bad Luck Brian,” one of the most popular during its time period, was one of the first viral memes. A favored app, used during the early meme era was “IFunny.” It was well known in 2012, but soon lost its popularity.  Now memes can be found anywhere from Instagram, Twitter, and even Reddit.

Most musicians and meme creators believe Article 13 will compensate them fairly and protect their original work from being stolen. Though the musicians and creators would like to be compensated for the use of their work, Article 13 has the potential to devastate tech firms, such as Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook. Since it’s very difficult to regulate or prevent the public from sharing copyrighted music or memes, it could cost the companies millions of dollars in compensation. The tech industry countered by arguing that artists are already paid fairly under the current system and there is no need to change, since all copyrighted material is taken down from websites and social media platforms as soon as they are discovered or “flagged” by users.

Fear over the loss of memes propagated widespread push back and outrage from internet users. Thus, several revisions have been made to the article and memes have now been excluded. Despite the fact many memes are usually composed of clips from TV shows or movies, they are no longer in danger of copyright infringement. According to BBC reporter Zoe Kleinman, “specific tweaks to the law made earlier this year made memes safe ‘for purposes of quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody and pastiche.” Parliament explained that memes and GIFs will be specifically excluded from Article 13, bringing relief to those social media-obsessed who were ready to overthrow the European government in an attempt to protect their way of life.