Millennials are resolute in their fight against proposed changes to EU copyright law, but is a movement toward free-for-all content realistic?
In September 2016 the European Commission published proposed changes to its Copyright Directive. Europe, which sees the highest piracy rates globally, is responding to the problem of copyright in the digital era, and specifically on IP use and capitalisation. Controversial changes included a proposal that user-generated content sites apply automated content filtering for copyright infringement, and a link tax, already established in France and Spain, that asks sites linking to news articles to pay a fee to IP owners.
There are fears that the proposed copyright filters will, unable to distinguish infringing content from content protected by the ‘fair use’ doctrine, automatically remove online content central to Millennial ‘remix culture’ on social media. This includes fan fiction, reaction GIFs, and internet memes. Generally regarded as the best thing to come out of the internet since puppy cams, an internet meme is a social media-shared image accompanied by text that is altered for humorous purposes, often in line with topical events or relatable issues. Since internet memes exist based on their viral replication, automatic deletion would lead to their rapid demise and so change Millennials’ use of social media.
But, as the European Commission have found, one does not simply remove the meme from the internet. A multiplicity of groups have formed that oppose the proposed changes to the Copyright Directive, urging supporters to get involved by contacting MEP representatives. The groups include a ‘save the meme’ campaign against the controversial copyright filters of Article 13, a ‘save the link’ campaign against the ‘link tax’ of Article 11 and Copyfighters, a group of 25 Europeans all under 30 years of age. Copyfighters claim to fight for a digital single market, fair use and remix culture and are an example of how Millennials are beginning to engage with legislative measures to work toward redefining IP ownership in the modern age.
Of course, the internet as a sharing platform has raised major issues with IP protection, and creators and IP rightsholders should be protected and supported in the future. However, there have also been concerns that the proposed changes could infringe on users’ privacy, by monitoring personal content. This comes into conflict with the ‘safe harbour’ agreement, which clears ISSP liability for copyright-infringing content that they host but do not upload.
So far, one out of five committees has voted on the proposed changes. The Internal Market and Consumer Protection (ICPO), who hold the second-most important vote after JURI, voted against content filtering and data mining, and for link tax and a ‘remix’ copyright exception. A lead committee vote by JURI is scheduled in the final week of September, and finally the EU Parliament may opt to make an executive decision which would take place in late October.
The strong reaction to the proposed changes in European youth is evident of the changing way in which younger generations are perceiving IP ownership and copyright law. The European Commission recognises a need to adapt law to a borderless, virtual environment, but also a need for IP owners and creators to monetise on use of their content in order to encourage and support a new generation of creative innovators. Similar to this, the relationship that Millennials have with media copyright continues to drive piracy rates and this shows no sign of slowing down with a younger generation, despite the prevalence of legal streaming sites like Netflix. Of course a borderless, free-for-all culture is alluring, but the reality is that this cannot be self-sufficient. In order to ensure of a future that supports creators, IP owners must understand the singular relationship that influential Millennials have with content and adapt content protection strategies accordingly.