Could the “Meme Tax” Kill Twitch & Youtube in the EU?

As silly as it sounds, yes! While it’s been dubbed the “meme tax” by some, Article 13 poses a real threat to platforms such as Twitch and Youtube. But, what is it? Who does it impact? Where do we go from here? All great questions, so let’s dive in.

How did we get here?

Everyone is up in arms about the European Union’s (EU) new set of copyright rules called the “European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market,” specifically Article 13. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? In the interest of not catching carpal tunnel, I’ll stick with calling it the Meme Tax.

Well, the Meme Tax is a directive that was recently voted in favor by the European Parliament. Platforms such as Twitch and Youtube are openly protesting its passing. But, before we get into why everyone is pissed let’s talk about what it is.

What is this Meme Tax?

In theory, the Meme Tax is meant to protect copyright. It’s actually intended to protect and strengthen traditional media as well as the music industry. It actually would actually benefit musicians who barely see any money from their content on platforms like Youtube. However, it is bound to have a detrimental impact on so many more.

This new directive would require platforms that host user-generated content to restrict users from posting “unauthorized protected works or other subject matter” on their platform. Failure to comply would make the platforms (not the users) liable for any copyright infringement.

I’m sure there are some of you out there that are wondering about the current copyright laws that are in place. Basically, f*** ’em. The copyright protections currently in place are similar to the United States’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA).

DCMA allows for a “fair use policy” in which copyrighted content that is used in a transformative manner is fair use — and the Meme Tax will put an end to that.

Who is going to be impacted?

When looking at the overall impact, it’s pretty massive. Especially since the EU consists of countries like Belgium, France, Spain, and Germany. And despite the fact that the UK left (remember Brexit?), they would still have to follow this directive for a bit.

So, you can see how creators, consumers, and platforms are pissed off. Platforms like Twitch and Youtube will have to figure out a way to implement an algorithm that’ll be able to flag any and all copyrighted content.

While this seems like something that is easy to do (or already is being done to some extent), efforts would absolutely be ramped up since the burden (or should I say paying that bag) would now be on the platforms’ shoulders. One user commented that he wouldn’t be able to stream in public because a popular song in the background might get flagged. Though this feels like a stretch, it’s still to be determined how the platforms will respond.

In a letter from Twitch that was posted to Reddit, they spoke to the gravity of the Meme Tax.

Because Article 13 makes Twitch liable for any potential copyright infringement activity with uploaded works, Twitch could be forced to impose filters and monitoring measures on all works uploaded by residents of the EU. This means you would need to provide copyright ownership information, clearances, or take other steps to prove that you comply with thorny and complicated copyright laws…and it would also limit what content we can make available to viewers in the EU.
Operating under these constraints means that a variety of content would be much more difficult to publish, including commentary, criticism, fan works, and parodies. Communities and viewers everywhere would also suffer, with fewer viewer options for entertainment, critique, and more.

To put it into context… let’s say that you are a fan of a GIFs and memes. You see someone post something online and you want to respond with a GIF or meme that includes copyright content. The platform that you posted said content on would then be liable for paying (e.g. if a user responds to a post with a Star Wars meme, that platform would be responsible for paying Disney).

So…what now?

The worst-case scenario for platforms like Twitch would be to simply pull their services from the EU market. Let’s say a user wanted to post a review of a video game to Youtube or a streamer hopped on Twitch to play their favorite game… if the hosting platform didn’t have a license to host that content then they would be responsible for paying out those licenses.

There isn’t a set date on how/when this will happen. The specifics still need to be worked out by the European Parliament and voted on to confirm. There is, however, a vote scheduled for January of 2019, and from there EU members will have to introduce laws within two years in line with the directive.

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