Everything You Need To Know About The Law The EU Just Passed That Could Change The Internet As We Know It

The extremely controversial copyright could have profound ramifications for how the internet works — and, yes, maybe make memes illegal.

Frederick Florin / AFP / Getty Images

The European Parliament voted to adopt an extremely controversial copyright reform on Wednesday that could have profound ramifications for how the internet works. (And, yes, maybe make memes illegal.)

The reform is called the Copyright Directive and it was first proposed in 2016. On Wednesday, members of European Parliament voted 438–226 in favor of adopting the directive. The law is meant to be an overhaul of copyright rules, aimed at making sure publishers and artists are compensated by platforms like Google or Facebook.

The directive has been in the works since July, when it was announced that parliament would move forward with the copyright legislation. Wednesday's vote was the last chance for any amendments.

The controversial directive contains two articles that open internet and free speech advocates believe could fundamentally alter the way the internet works. Here's what they mean.

Article 11, or the "link tax."


In the simplest terms, Article 11 requires sites like Facebook, Apple News, or Google News to pay news publishers for sharing their content.

You go to Google News, you click on a Le Monde story, Google has to pay Le Monde. The way Google operates now is by no means perfect, but critics of the Copyright Directive worry that Article 11 could have serious effects on smaller publishers that depend on Google News for traffic.

For instance, in 2014, when Spain tried to get Google to pay publishers for indexing their stories on Google News, Google just closed Google News in Spain, arguing it was financially unfeasible to pay publishers for linking out to them. Ever since, Spanish users have had to go to news websites directly, which didn't really affect large publishers, but has had a huge impact on small publishers in Spain.

Article 11 also allows EU member states to make their own adjustments to it.

This article has been criticized by German Pirate Party politician and member of the European Parliament Julia Reda, who has been a vocal opponent of the Copyright Directive. She told BuzzFeed News that the Copyright Directive is basically unworkable.

"What we do every day on the internet would become illegal — sharing news articles with each other," she said. Reda said that under Article 11, a user would need a news publisher's permission to share a news story's full headline.

Article 13, the "upload filter" that could make memes illegal.


Article 13 of the Copyright Directive requires platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram to be legally liable for the content their users upload.

Essentially, if you were to upload a copyrighted song to your YouTube channel, YouTube would be responsible for it. Not only would they be responsible for it, but platforms would also have to have filters in place to police the sharing of copyrighted content before it goes live.

Critics of the article argue that algorithmic filters wouldn't be able to tell what would be considered parody. They could also be used for surveillance or the curtailing of free speech.

"The Parliament squandered the opportunity to get the copyright reform on the right track," Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake said in a statement Wednesday. "This is a disastrous result for the protection of our fundamental rights, ordinary internet users and Europe´s future in the field of artificial intelligence. We have set a step backwards instead of creating a true copyright reform that is fit for the 21st century.”

Unsurprisingly, Article 13's biggest supporters have been members of the music industry.

"The proposed Copyright Directive and its Article 13 would address the value gap and help assure a sustainable future for the music ecosystem and its creators, fans and digital music services alike," Paul McCartney wrote in a letter to parliament in July.

So what happens next?

Twitter: @MarietjeSchaake

After Wednesday's vote, the European Parliament will go into negotiations. The European Commission and member states will have to reach a compromise before legislation becomes effective. And even then member states would have flexibility in how they enact the regulations.

Reda warned that negotiations will still include Article 11 and Article 13, meaning that whatever happens before the final vote on the Copyright Directive in January, the two most controversial pieces of it will remain intact.

"The problem is the negotiations will take place on the basis of this parliament text," Reda said. "The only thing that could push a compromise is public pressure."

Who is behind the Copyright Directive?

Vincent Kessler / Reuters

German MEP Axel Voss has been leading the charge for the directive. The 55-year-old conservative is a copyright absolutist who sees himself as someone who is defending artists and journalists in Europe against huge American tech companies.

"Members of the house, a heartfelt thanks for the job that we have done together. This is a good sign for the creative industries in Europe," said Voss after the vote on Wednesday.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to Voss's office for comment.

Gus Rossi, the director of global policy at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit research initiative promoting an open internet, told BuzzFeed News that the Copyright Directive isn't about giving power back to European content creators, but actually about aligning with more traditional media institutions.

"European Parliament decided to align with the entertainment and publishing industry, and it’s harming copyright to try to defend those interests," Rossi said. He also pointed out that the only companies that currently have the technology and resources to implement upload filters and pay link taxes are the same Silicon Valley companies MEPs like Voss claim they're trying to fight back against.

"We will end up with an ineffective legislation that will break copyright, and less entrepreneurs and innovators in Europe," he said.

What will a post–Copyright Directive internet look like?


After January, Google could decide that linking to news sites is too costly. Which means if you googled, say, "EU copyright vote," there would be no news stories about the vote. The first page of search results would probably be a few government websites and maybe a Wikipedia article about what the European Parliament is. (Although, this law will also seriously affect Wikipedia, as well.)

Most photos and videos on places like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube would either have such aggressive filters that people would stop trying to use them, or they would no longer allow people in the EU to upload content. Already, large swathes of YouTube are blocked for regional copyright reasons in the EU. Apple's App Store does this as well. Most likely this would just increase this.

It could very quickly create two internets. One without the Copyright Directive and one with it. But perhaps more alarming is the idea that social media platforms might decide it's easier to make all users play by EU regulations.

"The closest example is the GDPR," Rossi said. "What happened was because of scalability and ease of compliance, tech platforms decided to implement the GDPR outside of the EU."

In May of this year, the EU triggered the General Data Protection Regulation. Overnight, new data protection rules were unleashed on the internet. You may have casually noticed more of your favorite websites asking you if you wanted to opt in to them tracking your cookies, or asking you to manage your privacy settings. Which means upload filters and link taxes won't stay a European problem for long.

"We may see that for some internet platforms to comply for a worldwide operation than a European operation," Rossi said, "it’s easier for them to comply to one law than many laws."