Tuesday’s move will update the EU’s 20-year-old copyright rules and will govern audiovisual content, much to the dismay of many social media users who have already begun outpouring their grief online.
However the parliament said in a statement that sharing memes and gifs has been protected “even more than it was before” and they will continue to be available and shareable on online platforms.
MEPs passed the legislation by 348 votes to 274 Tuesday. Opponents had hoped for last-minute amendments to be made but their efforts were in vain.
Julia Reda, a German MEP with the Pirate Party, described it as a “dark day for internet freedom.”
Article 13 or ‘The Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market’ makes all platforms legally responsible for the content hosted and shared on their platforms.
The process of updating the bloc’s copyright laws began in the European Commission two years ago, ostensibly to protect Europe’s publishers, broadcasters and artists and guarantee fair compensation from big tech companies.
EU member states now have two years to pass their own laws putting Article 13 into effect.
The law will require anyone sharing copyrighted content to obtain permission from rights owners, even if the content is just an animated GIF on Twitter. To protect their platforms from legal trouble, sites such as Facebook and Wikipedia will now be forced to implement “upload filters” to ensure that user-generated content doesn’t violate copyright.
Expensive to implement, vulnerable to bugs, and prone to inadvertently censoring lawful content, such filters have been slammed by critics as an existential threat to free expression on the internet.
Tens of thousands marched in protest across Germany ahead of the vote, decrying what they viewed as severe online censorship.
Tech giant Google said that while the directive is “improved” it will still lead to legal uncertainty and will damage Europe’s creative and digital economies.
Critics have argued that the only way for Article 13 to be effectively enforced would be through the use of upload filters which automatically check content to see if it’s copyrighted or not, at least in theory. However, the exact mechanics of such a system have yet to be fully debated and the potential for abuse is immediately clear.