Article 13 - Is this the end of a GIF & MEME?

29th March 2019 Media Law

For some time concerned teenage relatives have been asking me about Article 13, Chapter 2 of the ‘Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on Copyright in the Digital Single Market.’ (“the EU Copyright Directive„) and how this will impact their daily internet lives.

Their attention may have been (somewhat uncharacteristically) drawn to this new legal debate because of the fact that a number of prominent ‘YouTubers’ have made videos about Article 13 or, perhaps, because a series of high profile individuals have campaigned against the implementation of Article 13 - including the inventor of the internet Sir Tim Berners-Lee.


Before we discuss Article 13 in any detail, it may be worth a recap of what Copyright is. Our domestic Copyright law is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Copyright seeks to protect the form of expression of ideas and protects works such as literary, musical works, films and the written word such as books.

What is Article 13?

Article 13 essentially says that owners of websites that host content generated by users (such as YouTube and Facebook) will be legally responsible for the copyright material hosted on those sites. Article 13 requires online platforms to actively filter or remove copyrighted material from their websites.

It will come as no surprise that musicians have been supportive of the new Directive because it may mean that musicians, journalists, actors, authors and other creatives will have a legal standing to demand payment if their works are published on such sites.

The Performing Rights Society, who represent the rights of songwriters, composers and music publishers in the UK, have said that Article 13 means that ordinary people can upload videos and music without being held liable for copyright infringement controversially, under the new European law it is the internet platforms who will have the responsibility. Those internet platforms will, generally, have more money to pay in relation to copyright infringement damages than the everyday internet user.

It seems that the aim of Article 13 is to direct money from ‘tech giants’, who profit from user generated content, towards the artists who own the copyright in the works.

Memes and “GIFs„

The confusion has come about because, if Article 13 was to create a blanket ‘ban’ on copyright material across social media platforms, this would include memes and GIFs. For clarity, memes are photographs and GIFs are short videos often used by social media users to make a joke or express a particular sentiment.

The European Commission has specifically confirmed that internet users will be able to use memes and other works in certain circumstances.

In a press statement the Commission said:

“.. The Copyright Directive protects freedom of expression, a core value of the European Union. It sets strong safeguards for users, making clear that everywhere in Europe the use of existing works for purposes of quotation, criticism, review, caricature as well as parody are explicitly allowed. This means that memes and similar parody creations can be used freely. The interests of the users are also preserved through effective mechanisms to swiftly contest any unjustified removal of their content by the platforms..„

According to figures published by the EU, copyright-intensive industries employ 11.65 million people and contribute 915 billion Euros to the economy - that’s somewhere in the region of £781 Million.

Now that the European Parliament has approved the Directive, the next stage is for countries represented on the Council to pass the Directive. If that happens, EU countries have 2 years to implement the rules into national legislation.

Whether the UK will, only Brexit knows!

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Dominic Walker is a Solicitor located in Manchesterin our Media Law department

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